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David vs. the Galacticos: APOEL's mission impossible?

By Tom McGowan, CNN
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue March 27, 2012
Santiago Solari (left) spent five years at Real Madrid between 2000 and 2005, during which time he won the European Champions League and two Spanish league titles. The Argentine midfielder's brother Esteban will play for Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia against Real on Tuesday. Santiago Solari (left) spent five years at Real Madrid between 2000 and 2005, during which time he won the European Champions League and two Spanish league titles. The Argentine midfielder's brother Esteban will play for Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia against Real on Tuesday.
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Solari siblings
Goals apart
The Bernabeu Stadium
The GSP Stadium
Rich history
Glory for the 'Galacticos'
History boys
Friends reunited
Clash of the titans
Home comforts
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Spanish giants Real Madrid take on Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia on Tuesday
  • APOEL are the first Cypriot team to have reached the Champions League knockout stages
  • Real are aiming for a record 200th win in Europe's premier club competition
  • Real have played 343 matches in the competition, APOEL have played just 49

(CNN) -- Football's version of the fabled David vs. Goliath battle will begin on Tuesday as Europe's top club competition kicks off its quarterfinal stage.

In one corner, modern-day giants Real Madrid -- one of the richest sporting teams in the world, with a squad featuring the planet's most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Seeking to find a suitable slingshot are the players of APOEL Nicosia, a tiny Cypriot club playing in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League for the first time -- indeed, being the first team from the Mediterranean island to even reach the knockout stage.

The gulf in pedigree between the two teams is immense.

Real, with revenue of more than €400 million ($530 million) last year, will seek to notch a record 200th win in the competition in the first leg in Nicosia. The Spanish league leaders last won the competition in 2002, but have an unmatched nine crowns since the first staging in 1955-56.

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APOEL have a yearly budget of €9 million ($12 million) and a squad featuring no big names, bolstered by several South Americans.

Both teams have a Brazilian player named Kaka -- Real's is an $85 million former world player of the year, while APOEL's is a defender on loan from German club Hertha Berlin who also played for the club's Nicosia rivals Omonia in 2010.

They have another thing in common, this time an Argentine link which further highlights the clubs' different worlds.

Santiago Solari was a midfielder who enjoyed a glittering career which saw him win the Champions League with Real in 2002 and Spanish league titles in 2001 and 2003.

But while Santiago played alongside "Galacticos" such as Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Brazilian World Cup winner Ronaldo, his younger brother Esteban Solari was beginning his career with Buenos Aires club Defensa y Justice.

Santiago turned out for historic teams such as Argentina's River Plate and Italy's Inter Milan during 15 years as a player, but Esteban has enjoyed a more modest career.

The 31-year-old has played for nine clubs across three continents, waiting patiently for the chance to step out of his sibling's shadow.

"I spoke to my brother and other members of my family after the draw," Esteban Solari told UEFA's official website.

"We spoke a bit about the history of the club (Real) and who they are. But that doesn't change my feelings about this tie with respects to my brother having played for them.

My brother is obviously a big supporter of Real and he will be hoping that they can go on to lift the trophy
Esteban Solari

"I go into this game just like any other player in the team. We are confident and we believe in ourselves."

APOEL, who have played just 49 Champions League matches compared to Real's record total of 343, have already upset the odds to make it this far in the competition.

Ivan Jovanovic's team finished top of a group which contained Russia's Zenit St. Petersburg, Portuguese champions Porto and Ukrainian title winners Shakhtar Donetsk -- three teams who have all tasted glory in the second-tier Europa League in the last four years.

APOEL's unlikely run continued in the round of 16 with a dramatic penalty shootout victory over former French champions Lyon -- who had reached the knockout stages in each of the previous eight seasons.

Esteban Solari hopes his brother would not begrudge APOEL a semifinal berth, where the minnows would face either 1993 winners Marseille of France or Germany's four-time European champions and 2012 final hosts Bayern Munich.

"My brother is obviously a big supporter of Real and he will be hoping that they can go on to lift the trophy," the striker said. "But somehow, I believe there will be a piece of his heart rooting for my team as well."

Real will be motivated by the prospect of an "El Clasico" final against archrivals and Champions League holders Barcelona, after the two teams were kept apart in the quarterfinal and semifinal draw earlier this month.

Barca, who beat Real in the semifinals last year before going on to defeat Manchester United in the final, face a heavyweight clash against Italy's seven-time winners AC Milan on Wednesday.

Tuesday's other quarterfinal tie pits 2008 runners-up Chelsea -- who have enjoyed an upturn in domestic form since sacking manager Andre Villas-Boas earlier this month -- against Portugal's Benfica, who lifted the European Cup twice in the 1960s.

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