SPORTS

Tricky draw for Greeks in the Europa League

Greece will be happy if next month it sees two out of its four teams in the Europa League advance to the group stage of the competition after a tricky draw on August 5 saw them land opponents that may appear easy on paper but can prove much harder in reality.

Cup winner AEK got the best draw in the playoffs as it was paired with Georgian side Dinamo Tbilisi, and is the favorite to make the group stage. The first match will take place in the Georgian capital and the return at the Olympic Stadium.

“It certainly is an issue that we do not know much about the team we got, and we need to be careful to avoid any surprises,? said AEK manager Manolo Jimenez. ?Dinamo Tbilisi has already eliminated three teams to get here, which proves its worth.»

Panathinaikos avoided clubs such as Sochaux of France and Guimaraes of Portugal, but will face Maccabi Tel-Aviv, with the first game in Israel. Maccabi dumped Olympiakos out of the Europa League last summer, so if Panathinaikos underestimates the most popular Israeli club it will be at the Greens’ peril.

“It will show at the end of the two legs whether this is a good draw or not,» said a realistic Vangelis Petsos, the representative of Panathinaikos in the draw at Nyon, Switzerland. «A good Panathinaikos should not have a serious problem with the Israelis,» he added. «It is a good thing that the league in Israel has not started yet, so we will not face a team that is more ready than we are.»

PAOK also got a tricky tie, as it will face nouveau-riche Ukrainian side Karpaty Lviv, a club that has prospered from the general financial growth of Ukrainian soccer and recently made a bid for Panathinaikos player Simao. The first match will be in Thessaloniki.

“PAOK will need to appear as concentrated as it did against Valerenga, in order to make it to the group stage for the second year in a row,» stated PAOK board member Giorgos Farlalis. «That will be important for the club’s prestige, to say nothing of the economic benefits.»

Finally, Olympiakos Volou will be happy to even play in the playoffs, as that would mean it was spared relegation in Greece. If it does, it will face French giant Paris-Saint Germain, another nouveau-riche side which has spent millions of euros this summer in transfers following its acquisition by a group from Qatar. If the tie is played, the first leg will be at the Panthessaliko Stadium of Volos.

“We will do our best so that we and our fans enjoy the games and maybe use good luck in order to advance to the group stage,» said Olympiakos Volou striker Ilias Solakis.

All ties are scheduled for August 18 and 25.

In the Champions League playoffs, Cypriot champion APOEL will face Polish side Wisla Krakow. If it qualifies it will join Olympiakos Piraeus in the draw for the profitable group stage on August 26.