18:00 on the dot, 19:00 Cyprus time, and Frank de Boer and Jasper Cillessen enter the press room of the GSP Stadium in Nicosia. The coach and keeper took their place in the beautiful Champions League setting and looked ahead to the important match against Apoel Nicosia. “It will be very difficult, because Apoel is tough to beat at home.”
“So we need to see if Ajax can get something”, said the coach, who has confidence that Ajax can book a positive result. “But Apoel is a good team. They want to be dominant, and they are here in their own country. Moreover, they have a very experienced team with an average age of 28. They’ve also proven that they can play well as a team. For example, they only lost 1-0 in Barcelona, and they had very good opportunities in the second half to tie the game. It’s a team with a lot of Brazilian and Spanish influences. They will definitely give you a hard time if you’re not at one hundred per cent.”
Moreover, it’s possible to be haunted in the Nicosia stadium. “The crown sits very close to the field here”, says De Boer. “But that’s the case at Feyenoord too and there are fifty thousand fans there. Our players are used to playing in those conditions. I’m not afraid that we’ll be as blindsided as we were at Feyenoord. Afterwards, I also said that there had been possibilities to play ourselves out of that situation. We need to make the right decisions at the right time. Make sure that the storm dies down.”
Whether or not Lasse Schöne will be able to play remains to be seen until after Monday’s training. “I’m estimating that there’s a seventy per cent chance that Lasse can play. Yesterday he felt so good that he joined us, which he hadn’t been planning on doing. At that time, he was fine. But he hasn’t tried shooting yet. For that, he needs to be a step further tonight.”
In addition to De Boer, keeper Jasper Cillessen was also seated at the table. The international has gained a lot of experience during the past year, for example during the World Cup. “This game is important for the players. We are very excited to play here. Obviously we want to win and hopefully we can enjoy the atmosphere in the stadium.”
In the qualifying rounds for a spot in the Champions League group phase, Apoel defeated Aalborg, Lucas Andersen’s former club. Coach Giorgos Donis compared Aalborg to Ajax in a press conference earlier this evening. Just like Ajax, Aalborg is a young and offensive team. “Our jersey even looks like theirs”, joked De Boer. “But our players have the advantage of already having played away games against Barcelona and Madrid.”
Cillessen, who isn’t overly experienced in terms of Champions League matches but who does have six duels at this level to his name, has the right attitude: “We shouldn’t be afraid of losing; we need to show courage and not let ourselves be forced back.” If Ajax can do all of this, it may be a beautiful evening of football in balmy Nicosia, Cyprus’ holiday island.