No alternative to victory

Panathinaikos’s 3-0 drubbing from soccer powerhouse Real Madrid in Spain on Tuesday, following a scoreless draw at home against Porto in its opening match for the Champions League second phase, virtually makes victory a must if the Greek team is to sustain hopes for a quarter-final berth in the lucrative competition. With its next game scheduled for February 19 against Sparta Prague away, when the league continues following a planned winter break, Panathinaikos will have plenty of time to prepare for its do-or-die battle in the Czech Republic. The break in the Champions League from now until late February, as well as that of the Greek league during the holiday season, will do us good, because the team is tired and needs a breather, Panathinaikos coach Yiannis Kyrastas told reporters at Athens airport after his squad’s return from Madrid. During the break, we’ll be able to work and return a fresher, stronger team to reach our objectives for a quarter-final berth, he added. Despite accumulating only one point in two games so far, Kyrastas said he would be content if his team emerged with a draw from its next match. We’d make a significant step toward qualifying with either a draw or win, Kyrastas said. It now appears likely that Panathinaikos will use the defeat to get rid of Portuguese midfielder Paulo Sousa, who is in his second season with Panathinaikos and who has contributed relatively little to justify his hefty contract. Last season, coach Angelos Anastasiadis openly clashed with Sousa, doubting his abilities and saying that he can’t make it. This season, Kyrastas appeared to have trusted him and, indeed, Sousa’s play flourished. Recently, however, he has lapsed again into mediocrity. Sousa’s initiative, at the dinner following Tuesday’s defeat, of ordering wine for himself and his teammates, led to an incident and to Kyrastas referring the player to Panathinaikos President Angelos Philippidis for his misbehavior. The pretext appears rather flimsy and could be an indication that Panathinaikos wants to use the incident to suspend or terminate Sousa’s contract. The Panathinaikos coach was the squad’s only member who made any comments to the local press about the loss to Real Madrid. We could have conceded another goal in the first half because we didn’t play correctly, said Kyrastas, whose side was down 1-0 at halftime. We conceded a goal in, possibly, the first half’s most vital period. We responded well during the second half’s opening 20 minutes. Had (Emmanuel) Olisadebe been on target with a couple of his attempts, the entire outcome could have been different, he added. Weighing this week’s away victory by group member Sparta Prague against Porto, Kyrastas said the result could turn out to be favorable for Panathinaikos.

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