Panathinaikos gets ready to test its present condition in Spain

Now well into their pre-season training campaigns, the country’s leading soccer clubs are fine-tuning their squads for the new season’s demands, both domestic and abroad. The Greek first division is scheduled to begin later this month. The Champions League’s first round of group play will commence in mid-September. Panathinaikos, which narrowly missed out on winning last season’s Greek league, traveled to the Spanish city of Huelva, in the country’s southwest, where the side will test its strengths in a mini-tournament that includes Huelva, the host team, and neighboring Spanish clubs Sevilla and Malaga. The Greek club’s newly appointed Israeli coach, Itzhak Shum, formerly with Maccabi Haifa, who expressed content with the condition of his players, said he would give all squad members some playing time in Spain. Panathinaikos plays its opening game tonight, against the host side. The squad is due back Monday afternoon. In other news concerning Panathinaikos, Portuguese club Benfica yesterday, according to a local sports website, has reached a preliminary agreement with the Athens club to sign leading player Takis Fyssas for a two-year deal. However, the report noted that Benfica’s coach, Jose Antonio Camaco, would be prepared to wait until December, when Fyssas’s contract with Panathinaikos expires. Defending champion Olympiakos, winner of a record seven successive Greek league titles that is marred somewhat by a disappointing record in European competition, is also in Spain, in the country’s northwestern city of Vigo, where the Piraeus club was due to meet local side Celta late last night. Celta, a rising force in Spanish soccer, will be present for the upcoming Champions League for the first time in the club’s history after ending fourth in last season’s first division. At PAOK, which lost several key players during the summer, administrative officials yesterday held first-round talks with several players in a bid to convince them to remain with the Thessaloniki club, which has struggled financially. Five players, Dimitris Markos, Dionysis Hasiotis, Dimitris Salpiggidis, Vangelis Nastos, and Christos Karypidis, all held preliminary talks regarding their futures at PAOK. The contracts of all five expire within the current year. PAOK’s coach Angelos Anastasiadis has warned the team’s administration that he cannot afford to lose more players. At fellow Thessaloniki club Iraklis, which returned from its pre-season training in Austria yesterday, all was progressing well, noted the team’s coach Eugen Gerrards. «I’m very pleased about the work done in Austria and hope that the boys feel the same way. Plenty of fatigue is being felt. The hot weather made conditions difficult, but we did well,» Gerrards said. Responding to questions about the club’s recent signing of striker Nikos Machlas, who was released by Ajax Amsterdam, Gerrards said that the player, a leading component in the Dutch league until his advancing age began setting in, would need support. «He’ll need support from all. He hasn’t played for a while but can definitely reach a satisfactory level,» noted Gerrards, who had guided the player during his early years with Cretan club OFI. AEK yesterday signed under-23 international Vangelis Moras from first division club Proodeftiki.