“APOEL will be looking to claim a major scalp in the Europa League last 32 when they welcome Athletic Bilbao at their Neo GSP on Thursday evening. The Cypriotes showed character in the first leg and thanks to Giannis Gianniotas’ late goal they managed to keep their hopes of making it to the next round alive. APOEL suffered the 3-2 loss to Athletic Bilbao at San Mames Barria, but it is well known that they are a real force to be reckoned with at home and everything is possible in the return leg. The Basques are likely to adopt a cautious approach in Thursday’s football match as their away record is anything but good. Ernesto Valverde’s men suffered two defeats on the road in the group stages of the competition and we predict that they are going to return home empty-handed. You should know that APOEL are after their fourth consecutive win at home in the Europa League.”
“This tie is now quite finally poised after the Cypriots managed to score two away goals in Bilbao last week. Athletic controlled the game for large spells and had chances to put it to bed when they were 3-1 up but a late Giannis Gianniotas strike for APOEL has changed the whole context of the tie. With home advantage in Nicosia, this could be a very different kind of game and the hosts look capable of at least avoiding defeat on the night.
A big reason for that is how poor Athletic have been away from home this season, be that in Spanish or European competitions. They only picked up 1 point and only scored 1 goal in their 3 away games in the Europa League group phase. Their away form in La Liga is even worse, with just 2 points from their last 8 away matches and they’ve failed to score in the last four. It is only their record at San Mames that is holding their season together and given their struggles on the road, they don’t really justify their status as ‘odds on’ favourites here.
It’s easy to write off Cypriot sides in Europe just because the country isn’t much of a football powerhouse and the league is weak. However, APOEL have proved time and time again that they are something of an exception to that. They made the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League only five years ago and were the dominant force in their Europa League group this season. They won all of their home group games and that must give them tremendous confidence coming into this match, given a 1-0 or 2-1 win would be enough to see them through.
They’ve only lost 1 of their last 31 home games in all competitions and although most of those were domestic opponents, they’ve got plenty of results against capable opponents in Europe too. They showed enough in the 1st Leg to suggest they will cause this Athletic defence problems and given the Basque side’s difficulties away from home, backing Double Chance – Apoel Nicosia or Draw at 17/20 looks to offer value in this one.”
Prediction: Apoel Nicosia to Win 2-1
"Athletic Bilbao travel to Nicosia on the back of a 3-2 home win over the rivals, hoping to seal the deal at Neo GSP stadium and secure the 8th finals. While this will by no means be an easy task, we do believe Los Leones will be able to hold APOEL to a draw, which can now be backed at 12/5 with William Hill.
Bilbao have suffered a 2-0 loss at struggling Valencia, which has indeed emphasized all their woes away from home and will surely not do wonders for the team spirits ahead of the Europa League return match. While they’ve been unbeatable in front of the home fans, Ernesto Valverde’s men have connected a six-match winless streak and earned just one win in their last 11 trips!
However, they’ll be motivated to make their way into the 8th finals and a draw would do just enough. APOEL haven’t timed their form perfectly as they’ve had their six-match winning streak ended by AEK Larnaca (1-1 draw) at Neo GSP earlier this month. Conceding three goals in just under 35 minutes in Bilbao hasn’t looked promising, but Gianniotas has pulled one back and kept the hope alive and they’ll surely not be a sitting duck on the day.
APOEL will have to approach the fixture with an attacking attitude which could see a lot of open spaces at the back, and we expect another thriller in Nicosia! Going for a Yes on Both teams to score has already attracted a lot of value seekers at 4/5 with BetVictor, as we’ve seen both sides score and concede a lot of goals recently."
Prediction: A draw
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