Porto the door to Euro glory for struggling Panathinaikos

Panathinaikos has to forget its disappointing domestic form today to overcome Porto and earn a place in the Champions League quarter-finals. The Athens side has displayed its best European performance this season since a semi-final appearance in 1996 but has been undermined by poor results in the Greek league. Panathinaikos’s title challenge faltered again in Thessaloniki on Saturday as it slipped to third place thanks to a goal-less encounter with Aris. «It’s not acceptable for Panathinaikos to put on displays of that kind,» club President Angelos Philippidis told local media. It was the club’s second consecutive 0-0 draw away from home and followed two Champions League wins over Sparta Prague that have put it on the road to the quarter-finals. «If we continue like this we won’t have any luck in the (Greek) league,» he said. First-placed Olympiakos and second-placed AEK both picked up three points in their encounters with Xanthi and OFI, and Panathinaikos fears failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Coach Yiannis Kyrastas, who guided Panathinaikos to the top spot in its opening group ahead of Arsenal, resigned in December after his side slipped to eighth in the domestic charts. New appointee Sergio Markarian resurrected its domestic campaign with seven straight league wins but the players’ form has dipped dramatically with the resumption of European action. Former Paraguay manager Markarian has insisted that the team has the capability of succeeding on two fronts but insisted the home league was the top priority. «Succeeding in Europe is very important to the club but the league title remains our top target this season,» he said. Panathinaikos has seven points, five adrift of Real Madrid in Champions League Group C with Sparta having three points and Porto, one. Porto has some problems of its own. Goalkeeper Paulo Santos will step in for Vitor Baia, who has a knee injury. Defender Ricardo Carvalho is also out with a leg injury, and another defender, Mario Silva, is suspended. Porto’s manager, Jose Mourinho, may make drastic changes to the side after criticizing his team for a lack of fighting spirit in a humiliating 3-0 defeat by Belenenses on Friday. Porto, which has lost eight games this season – the first time in 29 years – is virtually out of the Portuguese title race. It is currently in third place, nine points behind leader Sporting with eight games left to play. (Reuters)

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