SPORTS

Rebound required for a place in Champions League groups

Panathinaikos faces the tricky, if not tough, task of overturning a worrying 3-1 away loss a fortnight ago against Poland’s Wisla in Athens tonight, when the two clubs meet for a return leg that will determine which of the two will make it to this season’s Champion League group play. Yet despite the encounter’s crucial nature, the Greek club’s coach, Italian Alberto Malesani, took a more philosophical approach that is unusual amid the short-fuse politics of Greek soccer as he spoke extensively about Panathinaikos’s long-term plans at a news conference yesterday. «Our plans for Panathinaikos don’t depend on tomorrow’s [tonight’s] game. Discussion with the club’s administration has led to a plan for the next four to five years,» Malesani told reporters. «Fundamental changes have been made. We’re now working with more logic and less passion. All of us are contributing to this objective – administration, coaching team, physicians and players. We’re concerned about the type of work and its quality, and not so much about the results. We all feel responsible for this new training model and closely attached to it,» he added, while predicting that Panathinaikos stood to gain major rewards. Malesani, though, admitted that the result of tonight’s Champions League qualifier would have an impact on the psychology of his players as the new season approached. «It’s not a matter of life or death. It’s definitely a crucial moment as qualification will propel us forward for what’s to come,» said Malesani. «I consider the first leg’s 3-1 loss to be a heavy score. The players are ready, as are our fans, I’ve been informed.»  The Italian coach said club fans should expect unusual tactics from his team. Commenting on the evening’s Polish opponent, Malesani noted that Wisla plays a «specific type of game,» which will be a little more defensive for the return leg. «On the contrary, we’ve got to be strong and in an attacking mood so that we can tune the fans into our rhythm,» Malesani said. Panathinaikos defender Ilias Kotsios expressed confidence about his team’s prospects tonight. «We’ve been counting the days for tonight’s return leg against Wisla so that we can compensate our fans,» Kotsios said. «Wisla will get to find out what Panathinaikos is all about. I can’t imagine the Champions League without Panathinaikos,» he added. Wisla coach Jerzy Egel, who arrived in Athens with his squad early yesterday, said the Krakow team would seek victory at the sold-out Olympic Stadium. «The team is ready. We don’t have any problems and we will try to do what we did in Poland, in other words win and qualify,» Egel said. Wisla striker Marcin Kuzba, formerly of Olympiakos, reiterated his coach’s remarks. «We will also win at Panathinaikos’s home ground,» Kuzba said. His teammate, goalkeeper Radoslaw Majdan, said his team was «better and stronger, which is why we will qualify.«