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Cristiano Ronaldo is in a strange place – still a draw but without the power of old

“The last time Ronaldo was in Cyprus, APOEL fans chanted ‘Messi! Messi!’ to him…”

It’s Wednesday night in Larnaca, and a local – Nikolas – gives The Athletic a brief history of football on this island in the far eastern Mediterranean, with Turkey to the north and Egypt further south.

After decades of fallow in the 1990s and 2000s, Omonia Nicosia is experiencing a resurgence. A takeover in 2018 began a revival that led to a league title in 2020-21 and a victory in the Cypriot Cup final last season that earned them their place in the current Europa League.

In the opening 30 minutes of Thursday’s home group game against Manchester United, Omonia played in line with their record of a win in their previous 27 European appearances, but a 34th-minute opener from Karim Ansarifard was gave hope to his fans.

Maybe, just maybe, they would beat the world famous Premier League side with the great Cristiano Ronaldo in their starting XI.

Visitors Erik ten Hag were a disappointment in the first half, with Ansarifard’s goal shattering fragile confidence and revealing much of the scar tissue from previous seasons.

Ten Hag had made two changes to the side which lost 6-3 to Manchester City on Sunday, with Ronaldo and summer buyer Casemiro entering the starting XI.