When I was growing up in London, I had the great fortune of spending summers in Cyprus with my family. The island of love would always serve up an atmosphere and flavour that was intoxicating and addictive to the soul.
From the sounds of locals playing backgammon, to the delicious food, the sparkling sun and mesmerizing Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus had you falling head over heels in love with its beauty. Nowadays, there is an entirely different reason to fall in love with one of the world’s most picturesque and fascinating islands.
Football is very much part of Greek Cypriot life and culture. And over the last few years, the Cypriot’s have become much better at the game. This season, one team in particular has got the island singing and the rest of Europe watching. APOEL Nicosia has put Cypriot football firmly on the map and the island of barely a million people is garnering a reputation for more than just tourism.
APOEL are the first Cypriot side to ever qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. It’s a monumental achievement. And it hasn’t been a fluke either. Granted they’ve had some luck along the way, but APOEL played their group methodically and passionately, garnering phenomenal results. Zenit St Petersburg, FC Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk are not easy teams to beat or even get a draw against. But somehow, some way, their never say die attitude galvanized APOEL and they found a groove that surprised the world of football.
We all love seeing the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United in the latter stages of the tournament. Who isn’t excited by watching the world’s best players battle it out? But surely in every season, there should be a Cinderella who gets to go to the Champions League ball? Who knows, APOEL might turn into football pumpkins at the first try, but at least they can say they had one wee dance.
There is no doubt APOEL’s presence in the Champions League has been as refreshing as an iced cold Keo beer. The island brew is a firm favourite with locals and tourists. But beyond the local brew and tourists, anything can happen on the island of love. Trust me, I’ve felt the mystery and the magic for myself…