Porto out to avoid another APOEL sting

Porto are not afraid to make wholesale changes to their team as they seek to improve on their recent Champions League form and avoid being stunned again by Group G's surprise leaders APOEL Nicosia in Tuesday's Champions League match in Cyprus.

The Cypriots, who drew 1-1 at twice European champions Porto last time and are the biggest overachievers of this season's competition so far, will also be looking for a better performance than Friday's display against Anorthosis when they were forced to settle for a goalless home draw the league.

APOEL's Serbian coach Ivan Jovanovic said he could understand why the team played so poorly on Friday with the Porto match looming and the possibility of a place in the last 16 awaiting his squad, but an anticipated capacity crowd of 22,000 fans in Nicosia on Tuesday will have high expectations.

With the group stage at the halfway point, APOEL lead the tightly-bunched Group G quartet with five points, one clear of Zenit St Petersburg and Porto and three ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk.

The Portuguese champions, who beat Pacos Ferreira 3-0 on Friday and are ahead of Benfica on goal difference at the top of the league, were booed by their fans after what was regarded as an embarrassing draw with APOEL earlier this month.

Coach Vitor Pereira said his team had no choice but to go for the three points in Nicosia.

"The APOEL match is fundamental to us. We know that to go over there and win will require a Porto side at its very best level," he said.

DEEP CHANGES

Pereira made some deep changes in the last two domestic league matches, including dropping regulars Kleber and Nicolas Otamendi for striker Walter and centre-back Eliaquim Mangala.

The coach told his players that none of them had a guaranteed place in the starting 11 and his shake-up paid dividends as Porto crushed Nacional Madeira 5-0 and then Pacos on Friday.

"I am sure that in the APOEL match, with a good performance and a good win, the fans will applaud, because they love the club and they love football," said Pereira, assistant to Andre Villas-Boas last season when the club claimed a memorable treble of Europa League, Portuguese Premier League and domestic cup.

"Wins bring confidence and confidence brings quality. That is what we will be looking for in Cyprus."

Mangala, also captain of France's Under-21 team, will probably feature against APOEL. He is taller and physically stronger than Otamendi and impressed in his last two performances in the backline.

Walter, who was on the scoresheet in Porto's rout over Nacional, cannot be picked because he was not registered to play in the Champions League, a decision that Pereira has publicly regretted. This leaves Brazilian striker Kleber as Porto's only obvious option to play with Hulk up front.

APOEL coach Jovanovic has problems ahead of the match and does not have too many options to strengthen his side, which contains three Portuguese players and two Cypriots.

They are without injured goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis and Brazilian defender William Boaventura while midfielder Marchinho is not 100 percent fit after a lengthy injury absence and is unlikely to feature.

The well-organised Cypriots may have had to wait until their second Champions League tournament to earn their first win - at home to Zenit in September - but they have since shown that they are not out of their depth.

They boast a compact defence and pace up front, with Brazilian duo Ailton and Gustavo Manduca their main threats.

Probable teams:

APOEL Nicosia: 78-Urko Pardo, 29-Nektarios Alexandrou, 3-Paulo Jorge, 6-Marcelo Oliveira, 7-Savvas Poursaitidis, 26-Nuno Morais, 20-Aldo Atorno; 23-Helio Pinto, 21-Gustavo Manduca; 8-Ailton, 11-Ivan Trickovski

Porto: 1-Helton; 21-Cristian Sapunaru, 14-Rolando, 22-Eliaquim Mangala, 5-Alvaro Pereira; 7-Fernando Belluschi, 28-Fernando, 35-Steven Defour; 12-Hulk, 11-Kleber, 17-Silvestre Varela

Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)


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