Nicosia, for now, is GREEN

credit: Omonoia Instagram

Omonoia Nicosia’s 3-0 victory over APOEL on the 7th December ended a seven year winless run against their rivals in an encounter that’ll be remembered for events that occurred days after the match.

The form guide going into the derby favoured APOEL who, under new head coach Mick McCarthy, had three wins in their last five matches. Omonoia, however, were a club in crisis (according to the Cypriot press). Champions League qualifiers and then Europa League group stage matches were prioritised as starting lineups for domestic games consisted of academy graduates and fringe players; a sacrifice that almost derailed the club’s title charge.

Mid table, winless in five and with only one goal scored, the knives were out for Henning Berg. Rumours of a fall out between Berg and Greek international right back Charis Mavrias found their way onto a Facebook fan page – although the source turned out to be a relative of a disgruntled former board member. Slovak striker Michal Duris was targeted by sets of supporters for missing guilt edged opportunities against Doxa (0-0) and Ermis (0-0). Even teenage academy graduates were taken to task by supporters on social media, following rumours of them joking around with each other after a 2-1 defeat at Olympiacos Nicosia.

Nevertheless, aside from a poor display in the goal less draw at home against Paralimni (where captain Jordi Gomez had a penalty saved), Omonoia’s performances weren’t much of a concern for Berg. Chances were being created. Converting them was the issue.

A 2-1 victory against PAOK in their penultimate Europa League match was a shot in the arm Omonoia’s players needed – especially with the Eternal Derby four days away.

Goals from former Czech U21 defender Michal Luftner, Cypriot international Ioannis Kousoulos and Michal Duris handed Omonoia the points in a remarkably one sided encounter. The “Tryfili” were ruthless, moved the ball quicker, defended in numbers and looked threatening every time they broke forward. APOEL resembled a side that had admitted defeat before kick off.

As the memes and video packages from gloating Omonoia supporters hit social media that night, a bombshell was about to hit the Cypriot league.

The following morning, numerous sports outlets broke the news that APOEL had fielded four players who had tested positive for COVID. Astonishingly, the club decided to wait 24 hours to release a statement which simply read:

“Apoel Podosfero Ltd wishes to inform the public that a positive Covid-19 case has been detected at the club.

“In light of this event, today’s training session has been called off and the entire football department will go through a round of PCR testing tomorrow”.

APOEL’s conduct infuriated Omonoia. Players and staff were tested Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday evening before flying to Eindhoven for their final Europa League match against PSV. Both rounds of tests came back with negative results.

According to one of our sources, Omonoia returned to Cyprus on Friday morning and were ushered into an arrivals hall with around 150 people awaiting COVID tests of their own – a decision made by airport security that enraged Sporting Director Neophytos Larkou, who allegedly berated staff for their incompetence. Larkou felt his players, staff and everyone else waiting to be tested were at risk of contracting the virus due to the small enclosed area they were kept in.

Our source said

“Airport test results came back with seven positive cases – six players and one member of staff, but the club suspected they were falsified because all the players (who tested positive) are difference makers. Also, the people who tested players are students from a local university and openly admitted to being Anorthosis supporters”.

Anorthosis – another rival who, at the time, were top of the league, seven points ahead of Omonoia.

Later that afternoon, an independent round of testing found two Omonoia players tested positive for COVID. Meanwhile, a complaint was filed to the Cypriot FA and Ministry of Health by the club, requesting an investigation into APOEL’s violation of COVID protocols. Omonoia believed APOEL intentionally fielded players who had tested positive before kick off.

A third Omonoia player tested positive on Saturday but that was a drop in the ocean compared to APOEL’s COVID case total that had risen to eighteen.

APOEL’s Head of Communications Nektarinos Petevinos stoked up the fire on Sunday the 13th by Tweeting:

“What sort of idiot would withhold information about an infected player just so they can participate? This person is certainly more stupid than the one who announced it the first time because they had the opportunity to second guess themselves”.

credit: Twitter @npetevinos

Petevinos’ attempt to distance APOEL from any wrongdoing, suggesting Omonoia were making false claims and “firing shots” at their rivals didn’t go unnoticed – especially to Omonoia President Stavros Papastavrou.

On the 16th December, a vote to decide if the AEL-APOEL match should go ahead was put to all fourteen clubs in the division. Thirteen agreed to postpone the match, one disagreed – Omonoia.

APOEL’s immediate reaction was to release a statement, thanking clubs who voted to postpone the match and land a jab at their city rivals:

“The company APOEL FOOTBALL (PUBLIC) LTD wishes to thank all the teams represented in the Executive Committee of the KOP, for the almost unanimous decision to postpone the match AEL-APOEL.  Health issues should always be a priority for all of us.

The only team that did not vote in favour, we do not even need to mention who it is. After all, the word ethics that they invoke in their letters, we doubt if they have even read them.  We refer to the team that denounced APOEL to the Ministry of Health as dangerous in relation to public health.  It is of course the same group that with its official call, from its social network accounts, invited thousands of people, in the midst of a pandemic, to gather in a specific place.  Apparently they were not particularly interested in public health or ethics at the time.  Of course, as in the case of their president who enters Cyprus without self-restraint, so in the case of this gathering there was no investigation or any moral dilemma towards it despite the “information” that was circulating”.

APOEL’s statement was referring to a Tweet from Omonoia on the 16th September, where the club apologised to its supporters club for being unable to attend a celebratory party following victory over Red Star Belgrade in a Champions League qualifier, due to police intervention.

Like Petevinos’ tweet, APOEL’s statement only added ammunition to Papastavrou’s arsenal. The New York based businessman posted an image of a sprint starting position where one of the participants have a head start over the others. His caption read:

“Finally, the management of the team that did not report the existence of a positive case before our game, which violated the protocols of KOP and the Ministry of Health, and (due to their behaviour) endangered the health of its staff, players, public health and the health of our footballers, staff and families, was rewarded by KOP yesterday, who changed its protocols to help them.

Regarding Mr. Petevinos question of: “from which cafes did we (Omonoia) obtain information quoted in our letter to KOP” ….we got our information from APOEL! “

credit: Instagram @stpapastavrou

The postponed encounter with AEL meant APOEL’s next match would come twenty one days after their loss to Omonoia. Only three players from the derby defeat made the starting lineup against Karmiotissa, as COVID ravaged squad availability.

A screamer from Ismail Sassi in the opening minute proved to be the winner as Karmiotissa inflicted more pain on Mick McCarthy’s men.

This calendar year has been the club’s worst since 1997. APOEL’s league record twenty three years ago was 25 played, 9 wins, 6 draws and 10 defeats. A similar record compared with this year (P26, W9, D89 L8). Astonishingly, APOEL have only won two league matches away from home in 2020.

With the January transfer window looming, APOEL have been linked with Joe Garner, Kai Naismith, Jack Byrne and Alex Buttner. Nevertheless, the club’s wage bill has ballooned since the summer so there are sure to be a few departures in the January sales.

Omonoia’s league form since the derby silenced their critics. A scrappy 2-1 win at home to FC Pafos was followed by a 5-1 demolition of Karmiotissa. Four days later, title contenders Anorthosis took a 3-0 hiding at the GSP.

Even without Luftner, Duris and first choice goalkeeper Fabiano unavailable due to COVID, Omonoia looked streets ahead of their opponents. Berg’s decision to move Ghanaian forward Ernest Asante into a lone striker role paid off as he bagged three goals in three games.

Against Karmiotissa there were five different goal scorers and victory over FC Pafos came courtesy of a brace from academy graduate Marinos Tzionis – a player who’ll no doubt be playing in one of Europe’s top leagues in the near future.

Omonoia’s exit from the Europa League has worked in their favour. Three league wins on the trot moves them up from 7th to 4th, four points off first placed Apollon.

APOEL sit 9th in the table, seven points off the automatic relegation zone and seven points from the top 6.

Mick McCarthy’s job was never going to be easy and the COVID outbreak at the club has tested his players resolve. On current evidence, there is only one club in Nicosia with any stability or long term ambitions – and they don’t wear yellow and blue. Nicosia, for now, is green.

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