Among the poster boys for APOEL’s success in reaching the UEFA Europa League round of 16, forwards Yannis Gianniotas, 23, and Pieros Sotiriou, 24, discuss eliminating Athletic and what they can expect against Anderlecht when their tie starts on Thursday.
On eliminating Athletic Club …
Yannis Gianniotas: The two goals we scored in [the 3-2 first-leg defeat in] Spain were important. Scoring twice in Bilbao is an extraordinary feat.
Pieros Sotiriou: After I was sent off [with APOEL 2-0 up in the return fixture] I went straight to the stands. I was so worried, because I didn’t mean to leave my team with only ten men. I was longing for the final whistle.
Gianniotas: At full time we were very happy but very tired, since we had been ten v 11 against a particularly strong side. We felt liberated, and you could clearly see that on the pitch.
Sotiriou: It’s impossible to describe how it felt after we won. I was so happy, and I couldn’t believe it at that moment. I might not get a feeling like that again in my career.
On facing Anderlecht …
Gianniotas: There’s no such thing as a good or bad draw at this stage. It’s very competitive, so the only thing we can do is stay professional and disciplined. If we do, we will get what we deserve.
Sotiriou: They’re a formidable team, as Bilbao were, but I hope that with hard work and good preparation for our opponents, we can make it through to the next round. If we get past Anderlecht, any team we play would be exciting for Cypriot football.
On being European underdogs …
Gianniotas: APOEL have produced a few remarkable performances in recent years, but getting to the last 16 and knocking out big European clubs is still a bit of a surprise. We are up against clubs with ten times our budget.
Sotiriou: APOEL can look any big team in the eye. Other teams see us as outsiders because of the country we’re from, but they often pay for that.
On this UEFA Europa League adventure …
Gianniotas: Of course [reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals in 2011/12] is still discussed because the players who were part of that campaign are heroes at our club. Our ambition is to achieve something similar in the Europa League. We’ve got to a stage where maybe future generations at the club will talk about us as well.
Sotiriou: APOEL have already come a long way. And I believe that with God’s help and a bit of luck, we can take one more step forward. In Europa League games you’re playing in big stadiums where the capacity is over 50,000. That’s an extra motivation for us.
Gianniotas: It’s just what you dream of as a boy: playing in big stadiums in front of a big crowd. Of course there’s pressure but only until the referee blows his whistle. After that you just forget about everything.