Mighty Madrid next in APOEL's firing line

By STEVE DOUGLAS AP Sports Writer LONDON (AP) -- APOEL's historic run in the Champions League will receive the ultimate test this week when the tiny Cypriot club takes on mighty Real Madrid in arguably the biggest quarterfinal mismatch in the competition's history. Having already made history by becoming the first Cypriot team to reach the Champions League's knockout stages, APOEL sparked street parties on the small Mediterranean island by eliminating seven-time French league winner Lyon in the last 16. Madrid, a nine-time European champion with a galaxy of superstars that include Cristiano Ronaldo and Iker Casillas, will be next in APOEL's firing line when the first leg is played in Cyprus today. "This is the apex of the team's history so far, which also honours Cypriot football," APOEL official Panicos Hadjiliasis told The Associated Press. "It's the highest honour to represent Cyprus among the eight best teams in Europe. "We have tremendous respect for Real, we'll do what we've done in all previous European matches. We've reached this far in the competition under our own steam and we'll give it our all." The prospect of a dream final between Madrid and reigning champion Barcelona -- the fierce Spanish rivals and arguably Europe's leading two clubs -- was increased when they were kept apart in the draw for the quarterfinals and semifinals. Barcelona plays AC Milan in the most high-profile of the last-eight matches, with the first leg in Italy on Wednesday. Marseille is at home to Bayern Munich on Wednesday, while Chelsea travels to Benfica on Tuesday. The lineup of teams in the quarterfinals is one of the most diverse in recent years, with seven countries represented. Yet despite such a fluctuating campaign, it remains hard to look beyond Barcelona or a rejuvenated Madrid for the title. Madrid failed to reach the last eight in six successive seasons before the arrival of coach Jose Mourinho after he won the 2010 title with Inter Milan. Since then, the team has advanced for the second year in a row and boasts a record of seven wins from eight Champions League games this campaign. Mourinho, who is bidding to become the first coach to lead three teams to a European Cup title, has also seen his side build a six-point lead over Barcelona in the Spanish league title race. With a double against Real Sociedad on Saturday, Ronaldo became the fastest player to reach 100 goals in the Spanish league. But his exploits have again been overshadowed by Lionel Messi at Barcelona. Five of the Argentina forward's 55 goals this season came in the 7-1 drubbing of Bayer Leverkusen in the second leg of the last 16 -- a Champions League record. Messi should find it much harder against Milan, the Italian league leaders and four-time European champions. "They are the best team in the world and everyone's favourite, but we have nothing to lose and they do," said Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who spent one season at Barcelona before falling out with coach Pep Guardiola and leaving. Brazil defender Thiago Silva limped out of Milan's 2-1 win over Roma on Saturday and is set to miss both legs. Bayern is the team most likely to challenge the dominance of Madrid and Barcelona. The Germans, whose Allianz Arena will host the final on May 19, are in free-scoring form with 22 goals in their past four matches, including a 7-0 hammering of FC Basel. Marseille is recovering from losing a club-record eight straight French league matches but still managed to overcome 2010 winner Inter Milan in the last 16. "In Marseille, there is a fantastic atmosphere," said Bayern winger Franck Ribery, a former Marseille player. "The people live football and 60,000 fans will be against us." Thomas Mueller has a muscle problem but is expected to play for Bayern, however fellow midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is struggling to shake off a troublesome right ankle injury. Marseille will be without center back Souleymane Diawara and goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, who are both suspended. With Chelsea five points off a top-four place in the Premier League after a 0-0 draw against Tottenham on Saturday, the sole English team left in the Champions League may need to win it this year to ensure a 10th straight season in the competition. Leaving Benfica with a first-leg advantage will be tough, however, as the Portuguese team is unbeaten in its past 10 home games in Europe. Benfica is bidding to reach the semifinals in Europe's top club competition for the first time since 1990.


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