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Small teams, big ambitions

sports Updated: Mar 27, 2012 02:28 IST
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When Cypriot giant killers Apoel face the mighty Real Madrid on Tuesday, some might call the Champions League quarter-final, first leg tie the biggest mismatch ever at this stage of the competition.

Real's multi-million euro 'Galacticos' will take on a team that usually falls under Europe's football radar. Unkind observers could tag the contest as one between the journeymen no hopers of Apoel and the all conquering superstars from Spain.

But throughout this campaign the unfancied Cypriot have defied the odds in rewriting the history books -- giving justification to UEFA boss Michel Platini who campaigned for an even playing field for smaller clubs.

Apoel have come through the qualifying rounds to become the first Cypriot team to reach this stage of the competition.

More than 6,000 fans turned up at Nicosia's GSP stadium on Friday to snap up the last 300 tickets. The 23,000 capacity ground could easily have been sold-out three times over such is the interest in this game.

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In terms of budget and status, Apoel are the smallest club left in the competition, especially in contrast to Real Madrid.

And Apoel's financial clout pales into insignificance when compared to the planet's richest football club with a 490 million euro budget.

Goal machine Cristiano Ronaldo is the world's most expensive player costing Real a record 80 million euros on an annual salary exceeding 13 million. Apoel's record signing is Brazilian striker Ailton who cost 700,000 euros from Copenhagen in 2010 and their highest paid player Esteban Solari doesn't make in a year what Ronaldo earns in a week. At Apoel most players' salaries do not exceed 13,000 euros a month.

Needless to say, a triumphant run in Europe has generated more than the 22 million euros for Apoel which is enough to keep the club going for the next three seasons.

So far Apoel have played without trepidation in this competition and insiders at the club say the players will not be overawed. It was the draw - along with Barcelona - that Apoel wanted to avoid but it will be the greatest test yet as to how far they have come on this European adventure.

How they stack up