Mixed fortunes in soccer draws

The draw for the playoff round of the Champions League, the last stage before the money-spinning groups begin, produced contrasting results for Greece’s representatives, Olympiakos and Panathinaikos. Champion Olympiakos has the seemingly straightforward task of seeing off Moldova’s Sheriff Tiraspol, the weakest team that the Piraeus club could have drawn. In contrast, Panathinaikos will be ruing its luck after being drawn against Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, who finished fourth in the domestic championship last season. Sheriff reached the playoffs of the competition by pulling off a surprise to eliminate Czech side Slavia Prague. Olympiakos’s first match will be played on August 18 in Moldova and the second on August 26 in Piraeus. Although the two sides have not met before, Sheriff has faced Greek opposition in the past, losing to Aris in the UEFA Cup. Panathinaikos do not have happy memories of playing Atletico Madrid, having lost to the Spaniards 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in the UEFA Cup two seasons ago. The teams will play the first leg of their tie in Athens on August 19 and the return leg in Madrid on August 25. The winners of each tie will enter the group stage draw on August 27 in Monte Carlo. Greece’s representatives in the lesser Europa League also had mixed fortunes since PAOK was drawn against Dutch side Heerenveen for the playoff round whereas AEK will face Romanian side Vaslui, which eliminated Omonia Nicosia this week. The Cypriots are coached by former Olympiakos manager Takis Lemonis. PAOK will encounter a familiar face when they take on Heerenveen as the Dutch side is coached by another former Olympiakos manager, Trond Sollied, who took over in March 2008 and guided the team to fifth place in the local league. PAOK will play Heerenveen on August 20 at the Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki. The return leg in the Netherlands will be a week later. On the same dates, AEK will first travel to Vaslui before hosting the Romanians at the Olympic Stadium in Athens. Meanwhile, it was confirmed yesterday that Greece’s soccer Super League will kick off as scheduled on August 22.