It’s now been four days since Salamina lost to Apoel and the main message emanating from the reds is that of injustice and partiality. Club official George Constantinou spoke of persisting referee mistakes and asked for solutions, some sort of change to amend the current situation. The manager, former Cypriot international Nicos Panayiotou, proceeded to thank the fans for their ‘stamina’, the patience they’ve shown throughout this difficult season, and said that Salamina will try to win ‘on the pitch’, hinting that external forces are helping other clubs.
Salamina have been on a collision course with the Cypriot FA for some time now. They have stated time and again that the current situation is unbearably slanted, profoundly corrupt. No matter your views on the game itself, it would be incredibly difficult to oppose that view. Whilst other clubs have vocalised their disdain with the current administration, Salamina have been slightly more consistent in their stance. Some clubs bounce between rage and diplomacy, between displeasure and contentment. Salamina appear to have been left with few allies within the system. All things considered, this is a major compliment.
As far as the game is concerned, my view occupies a grey area, as it most often does. Apoel did have a few decisions go in their favour, more conspicuously an offside goal that was allowed to stand, however, it was the gulf in quality between them and Salamina that saw Fink’s men take all three points. Make no mistake, Apoel, despite their rocky and unconvincing performances, still possess talented players able to come on top in individual battles, and at the end of the day, that goes a long way. Conversely, Salamina have often been found wanting, especially when one or two key players become unavailable.
Salamina had to do without Grigalashvili and Diego Leόn: a major depletion of both energy and creativity in midfield. It is already a tough ask to go against Apoel to begin with, but to do so without your captain and recent purchase further raises the height of the hurdle.
Apoel fielded two new players against the reds. Martin Lanig started in midfield, slotting next to Nuno Morais, whilst Valmir Nafiu came on as a substitute later in the game. Lanig performed adequately, sticking close to the players in his zone and tackling ably, especially in one occasion where Apoel had conceded position just outside the opposition penalty box. Lanig’s precise tackle stopped what would be one of Salamina’s numerous counters dead in its tracks. Nafiu had a more anonymous presence, not helped by Apoel’s attempt to lower the game’s tempo and control the proceedings in the last 15 minutes.
Salamina are on a tight budget and it shows. They have players who can run, but can’t consistently find a teammate with their passes. They have players who can pass well but are slight and easily checked. They have players who are strong and imposing, but are slow and cumbersome. Granted, no team in Cyprus can afford players without any weaknesses whatsoever, but some have managed to obtain players whose limitations are not excessively notable.
Ram Strauss, for example, saved some decent shorts, including a penalty by Djebbour, but scuffed clearances, sliced passes and punched in situations where he should have caught, or at least tried to catch, the ball. Even when in his 6-yard box he chose to fist the ball away, rather than attempt to make it his own, despite the fact that any challenge by a rival would be deemed a foul. His performance and general eccentricity will have done nothing to alleviate some of the stress from the four defenders in front of him.
Speaking of which, Solomon Grimes must be a source of frustration for the Salamina fans. Not because he is the worst player in the squad, but because they must beat themselves over what could have been had Grimes’ decision making and passing were even of an acceptable level.
The general lack of these two attributes from certain Salamina players might have afforded Apoel a less stressful encounter and, ultimately, have denied Salamina from at least the point of a draw. Grimes was not alone in his poor in-game choices. The worst offender, considering he was brought on from the bench and should theoretically have exploited the openness of the game and the tired legs of his opponents, was none other than Pedrito.
It all started promisingly enough, but quickly deteriorated into a farce. Panayiotou initially placed him in a wide position, but he roamed around the pitch as needed the more he grew into the game. His introduction injected some much needed spirit into Salamina’s game, his directness and eagerness to run through congested parts of the pitch a sharp contrast to the stodginess of the first half, but there was no end product. The epitome of this came on the 86th minute where, whilst on a counter attack, Pedrito found himself flanked by two teammates and opposed by only two Apoel players. Outnumbering the opponent players, Pedrito could have quickly passed to Aurelio, who was nearer the goal, unmarked and more likely to latch onto a forward pass, but he passed to his right, towards Henrique. Not only was Henrique further away from goal, but he’s also one of Salamina’s slowest players. Pedrito’s overhit pass only added insult to injury.
On the other side of the token, Apoel had no such problems. Whilst they’re underperforming and aren’t generally very inspiring to watch at the moment, Apoel can rely on a few players for consistency. For example, Nuno Morais, though not playing to his usual high standards, is a model of quiet dependability. He cooly chested the ball to teammates, tackled and marked adequately and generally found a player in a yellow jersey with the vast majority of his passes. In tandem with Lanig, Apoel seem to have stumbled onto a very solid base for the front four to launch attacks from. That being said, Morais should have seen a yellow card during the first half. Salamina were in the middle of a counter (notice a theme here?) when the ball hit his arm. The touch did not stop the ball from reaching a Salamina player so the referee correctly let the attack unfold. However, after the ball went out of play, he should have cautioned the Portuguese midfielder.
The reds find themselves in 9th place with 17 points. Considering the performances of the teams above them, Salamina have a right to feel displeased about not being higher up the table. Nicos Panayiotou will undoubtedly seek to improve the team’s displays and, considering the players coming back from injury or suspension, as well as the offensive addition of Jean-Eudes Maurice, I think he’ll manage it. Whether that will translate to more points for the Famagusta club remains to be seen.
Salamina’s need to score more goals marginally outweighs the need to concede fewer of them, so the fact that they have directly addressed that need must be encouraging for their fans. Maurice must justify the excitement generated by his signing, but he is not alone in needing to burden the weight of expectation. Eze and Henrique must up their game. The later’s header straight to Pardo will have done nothing for his confidence, whilst the former’s aimless, at times, runs did nothing to intimidate neither Kaká nor Amorim. However, it must be said that Eze’s movement with the ball away from the box, as infuriating as it was to the home fans, did aid Salamina in retaining possession and slowing things down facilitating a more orthodox attack. With that in mind, even that type of contribution melted away in the second half.
Apoel are within arm’s length from Apollon and will hope that more assured performances and a slip by their Limassol rivals will help them retain the title. Neither Apollon nor Apoel can lay claim to regularly captivating performances, thus it is quite intriguing to see how the second round plays out. Hopefully fans across the island will be treated to a bit more enthusiasm and adventure by the players, but most importantly treated with a bit more respect and decency by the officials. Now wouldn't that be grand.