Olympiakos not afraid of the Red Devils

Olympiakos coach Takis Lemonis said yesterday that his side will take the game to English champions Manchester United in their opening Champions League Group G match in Athens tonight. Manchester are a good team but have their weak points, the coach of the Greek champions told local media. If we win, we will have the whole of Europe talking about us. The game pits two very different coaches against each other, with 41-year-old Lemonis preparing for his first match in the competition, while Alex Ferguson embarks on his final campaign. The Piraeus side’s options have been limited by a spate of injuries that have left them with former Barcelona forward Giovanni and veteran Alekos Alexandris as their only fit strikers. Liberian summer signing Zizi Roberts will not be in the squad for the match after failing to recover from an Achilles heel tendon injury, while Lambros Houtos may miss the whole season after a knee operation. Lemonis is expected to hand debuts to French international Christian Karembeu in midfield and former Boca Juniors captain Jorge Bermudez in defense. Ferguson said that he would reshuffle the side that defeated Everton 4-1 in the premier league on Saturday. Strikers Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, whose partnership had played a key part in United’s 1999 European Cup-winning campaign, will be relegated to the bench. Ferguson has decided on an instant recall for Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and England’s Paul Scholes in United’s attack. He said: Andy and Dwight both worked very hard. It gave me a chance to let them know we still think highly of them. But I have tried a system which I think may suit us in Europe on some occasions. That is with Van Nistelrooy on his own and Scholes in behind. We have had control in those games in terms of possession in midfield – and in Europe, that’s what you want. Ferguson wants his team to play a cat-and-mouse game to ensure they are not caught on the break by European opponents. Away from home, last year in particular, we were naive, he said. We were attacking teams and making ourselves lose because the midfield were committing themselves to attacking all the time. Teams were sitting back off us and counter-attacking on their own ground. Ferguson will hand Laurent Blanc and Juan Sebastian Veron their European debuts for United. But Ryan Giggs will be just as keen to put his recent red card in Wales’ World Cup qualifying defeat by Norway behind him. The winger was dismissed after a reckless tackle in the dying minutes brought a second yellow card. He admits United would have preferred an easier match for the opening game in their Champions League campaign. There’s no doubt everybody at Old Trafford was quite pleased with the group draw a couple of weeks ago, he said. But a trip to Greece is probably not the game we would have chosen for our first match. We’re still confident, but it would be naive to underestimate the size of the task playing the Greek champions in their own backyard. There is no disputing that the Greek fans are a factor in these kind of games. The noise they generate is phenomenal. But we’re not daunted by the challenge. United have no injury worries, although several changes are expected in the team Ferguson used on Saturday against Everton. Ryan Giggs will take over from Quinton Fortune, while David Beckham comes back at the expense of Luke Chadwick. Mikael Silvestre may return to defense in place of Phil Neville. The match is a sell-out, with Olympiakos officials expecting the attendance at the Olympic Stadium to surpass the current record crowd of 73,537 that turned out to watch them play Benfica Lisbon in 1983. There are no tickets available anywhere, everything sold out straight away, a club official told Reuters.

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