Looking to regain lost pride

Humiliated by poor Champions League play this season after having built up a reputation as the country’s most reliable club in European competition in recent years, Panathinaikos will seek to restore its lost pride tonight in Athens. But the task probably couldn’t be tougher, as the Greek team, last in Group E with a point from four games, faces Manchester United, the group’s co-leader with Stuttgart, each with nine points. The English club thrashed Panathinaikos 5-0 at Old Trafford in September. «A win against a major historic team like Manchester United is a great achievement, and that’s what Panathinaikos will fight for, regardless of the fact that the team’s been disqualified from the Champions League,» Itzhak Shum, the team’s coach, told reporters yesterday. Though the club’s chances of at least second spot in Group E – for a berth in the competition’s next round – have been mathematically eclipsed, Panathinaikos can hope for third place which would grant a consolatory position in the less prestigious UEFA Cup’s third round. Scottish club Glasgow Rangers, currently third in the group, lies three points ahead of Panathinaikos with two rounds remaining. The group’s UEFA Cup berth could be decided in Scotland on December 9 when Panathinaikos meets Rangers in the final round of group play. That game, however, would be rendered irrelevant for Panathinaikos’s UEFA Cup chances should Rangers emerge with at least one point in its away clash against Stuttgart tonight, and should the Greek club lose to Manchester United. The combined effect would give the Scots an insurmountable lead. Manchester United would seal its berth in the next phase with a win tonight. According to reports, the English side plans to rest captain Roy Keane but will field an attacking side. «We don’t want it to go to the last match,» said United’s American goalkeeper, Tim Howard, referring to their last group game against German league leader Stuttgart. «We want to take care of business [in Greece],» he added. For Panathinaikos, tonight’s match will be the second of a crucial three-match series in European and domestic play. Last weekend, the side drew 1-1 away against the Greek league leader Olympiakos to remain two points behind in second place. This weekend, Panathinaikos meets third-placed PAOK, a point behind. Shum, Panathinaikos’s coach, noted that his side would not be saving its strength for the weekend’s crucial domestic clash.