APOEL, Zenit to face freezing conditions

BY foxsports • November 22, 2011

APOEL Nicosia midfielder Gustavo Manduca is confident the freezing temperatures in Russia will not stop his team becoming the first Cypriot side to make the knockout stages of the Champions League when they face Zenit St Petersburg on Wednesday night.

APOEL were huge outsiders to make the last 16 when they were drawn alongside experienced campaigners Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit in Group G, but have stunned their critics.

Home wins over Zenit and Porto plus two draws on their travels have left them to top of the group, four points clear of third-placed Porto and one ahead of Zenit.

But Wednesday's encounter at the Petrovski Stadion promises to be a tough one, with temperatures expected to plunge to minus-five degrees centigrade - some 25 degrees colder than Cyprus at this time of year.

Brazilian Manduca will feel the cold more than most, but he insists APOEL will not be scared of taking the game to Zenit in the hope of securing qualification ahead of their final group game at home to Shakhtar next month.

"Everyone knows the importance of the match against Zenit," Manduca told APOEL's official website.

"It will be difficult. The weather will make it harder for us, but we'll play without fear, we'll play to our best.

"We want to get to the last 16 and will try to qualify. These two games coming up are the most important of our lives.

"If we succeed, it will be the highlight of all of our careers and the best moment in the history of APOEL."

APOEL, who sit third in their domestic league, will be greeted by a Zenit side eyeing revenge for their 2-1 defeat in Cyprus at the start of the campaign.

Coach Luciano Spalletti has warned APOEL that they will face a much more formidable opponent on Wednesday to the one that crumbled before them in September.

"The psychological state of the team has completely changed," said Spalletti on Tuesday, who has taken his team on a 12-match unbeaten run since the defeat in Nicosia.

"We knew that we were playing against a strong team, but our tactics didn't work entirely that night.

"Now we feel more confident. We have won a few matches in the league, which certainly will give us greater strength before tomorrow's meeting, and I think the team has got the right attitude and confidence levels now."

Spalletti's chances of reclaiming top spot have been hit by the continued absence of striker Alexander Kerzhakov, who is out with an ankle problem, but Portugal midfielder Danny is likely to play after a serious knee injury.

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