Apollon kick-off their Europa League group stage campaign with a hugely demanding encounter against last year’s semi-finalists Olympique Lyonnais at the GSP Stadium on Thursday (8pm).Like Apoel in the Champions League, the Limassol side have become somewhat regulars in the competition, having reached the group stages for the third time in five years.Sofronis Avgousti guided his side to the groups after defeating FC Zaria, Aberdeen and Midtjylland respectively in the qualifiers, and will now face Lyon, Everton and Atalanta in Group E.A player who played a key part in Apollon’s qualification was Chambos Kyriakou but the homegrown midfielder has since been loaned out to Portuguese side Estoril. The Limassol club have strengthened however, loaning Brazilian youngster Allan from Liverpool and Argentinian striker Nicolas Martinez from Olympiacos. Defender Angelis Angeli has returned to normal training though is unlikely to feature while Avgousti is hoping that forward Antun Maglica, who played an important role in the qualifying rounds, will recover in time.The Apollon defence will have their hands full against a powerful attacking line-up. Lyon have one of the best frontlines in the competition with former Manchester United man Memphis Depay, ex-Chelsea winger Bertrand Traore and French international Nabil Fekir behind striker Mariano Diaz who arrived from Real Madrid in the summer.The French side are undefeated in their opening five Ligue 1 games, winning three of them which puts them in third position behind last year’s champions Monaco in second and big spenders Paris Saint-Germain who sit top after a perfect start. After dropping into the competition last season following their exit from the Champions League, the French side knocked out AZ, Roma and Besiktas before eventually falling to Ajax in the last four. It is worth noting that Lyon lost their last three away games in the competition last season.The GSP is also the scene of one of their most disappointing European nights, as they famously lost on penalties to Apoel in the Champions League Round of 16 in the 2011/12 campaign. Apollon press officer Fanourios Konstantinou concedes that his side “are the outsiders” but says that the team will “try to make things difficult for the French club”. As well as success on the continent, Apollon’s big aim is to win the Cypriot first division title, but their start to the season did not go to plan as they could only manage a 1-1 draw at Olympiakos Nicosia.In their two previous group campaigns, Apollon kicked off at home and won both times – they defeated French side Nice 2-0 in 2013/14 and then FC Zurich 3-2 in 2014/15. However, they remain their only two victories beyond the qualifying rounds. This summer, Apollon were immaculate on home ground in Cyprus, winning all three games against FC Zaria, Aberdeen and Midtjylland at the AEK Arena, and their fans will be hoping for that run to continue on Thursday.As they did throughout those games in order to get to this stage of the competition, Apollon’s supporters are set to turn up in huge numbers in the group stage. Around 8,000 fans are expected to make the short drive to the capital in what will be one of the toughest games in the club’s history.
Crediting coach Rahul Dravid for instilling positive thinking in the team, Karnataka seamer Sreenath Aravind, who has been included in the national T20 squad for the upcoming South Africa series, today said that the legendary batsman has put the India A players on right track.The left-arm pacer, who can also bowl spin, bagged three wickets in the opening unofficial ODI against Bangladesh A and then picked up two crucial scalps today to play a key role in India A’s 2-1 victory in the series. The Bangalore player credited Dravid for the team’s success.”He is a legend and most of the time he is positive in the dressing room and also outside,” Aravind said.Also read: Gurkeerat, Aravind new faces; Jadeja dropped for SA series “He (Dravid) keeps encouraging us even when the chips are down, and that is the main factor we won the ODI series against Bangladesh A,” he added. Akram and Zaheer are role models Aravind, 31, also talked about his role models Wasim Akram and Zaheer Khan and getting vital tips from Australia’s Mitchell Johnson.”My role model has been Wasim Akram and then Zaheer Khan and now Mitchell Starc, who gave me some vital bowling tips,” Aravind said.Also read: Selectors give young Gurkeerat break, but surprise by picking Aravind “I learnt from Starc how to bowl yorkers over the wicket. Also I got valuable tips about having Plan A and Plan B to get into the skin of the batsmen,” he added.IPL was helpful advertisementAsked about the influence of IPL in his performance, the Royal Challengers Bangalore player said the T20 tournament helped the Indian youngsters to rub shoulders with many established international stars, who are adept at handling different match situations.”Yes, IPL was helpful for us, because we get to play with so many international players who play at different situations well,” he said.A shy Aravind admitted that he was surprised at his call-up in the India T20 squad.”I was surprised and was not expecting it for I was concentrating on my game (against Bangladesh A),” Aravind said.