SPORTS

Panathinaikos veteran is concerned about motivated Real bench players

Real Madrid could be more dangerous without their star players, Robert Jarni has warned his teammates ahead of today’s Champions League meeting between Panathinaikos and the Spanish club. «The stand-ins have far greater motivation and will want to win to prove they deserve to be in the starting 11,» the Croatia international, a former Real player, told Athens daily Ta Nea. Coach Vicente del Bosque has decided to call up eight reserve team players and to give those members of the squad who are more accustomed to sitting it out on the bench a run out for the final group match in Athens. Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Roberto Carlos, Claude Makelele, Michel Salgado, Guti, and Francisco Pavon have all been given the day off, while Ivan Helguera and Pedro Munitis are definitely out because of one-match bans. Add to that the absence through injury of World Player of the Year Luis Figo, skipper Fernando Hierro and his fellow central defender Aitor Karanka, and Real will effectively be fielding a second choice lineup against the Greek side. Among the young players who may get a chance to make a Champions League debut is 19-year-old striker Javier Portillo, who has scored close to 400 goals for the club’s youth teams. Panathinaikos need a point to secure a place in the quarter-finals of the competition, while Real will progress as group winners regardless of the result. «I wish the team that secured qualification was playing as they would be more relaxed and keen to avoid injury,» said Jarni. The wing back, who signed for the Greek club on a free transfer in January, has played little part in their Champions League campaign and is expected to start on the bench today. «Our advantage is the passion for qualification from all of our players. We are determined to progress to the next round and it would be a shame not to do it. «We also have home advantage and the strength that the fans will give us,» he added. Panathinaikos are unbeaten at home in the Champions League this season with only Porto taking a point from them in Athens and Sparta Prague the only team to score against them. «We have to lock up the defense and seize our opportunities in attack. Mistakes will not go unpunished,» warned the Croatia captain. «I believe that we will celebrate qualification as one of the eight best teams in Europe with our fans. We deserve it,» he said. Real Madrid defender Michel Salgado believes early Champions League performances have earned his team the right to rest a host of key players for their final group match. Real, the only team with a 100-percent record in the second Group phase, secured top spot in group C with their comfortable 3-0 win over Sparta Prague last week and can now approach their trip to Greece in relaxed mood. «The most important thing for us is that there is nothing at stake for us in our final game,» Salgado told Real Madrid’s official website yesterday. «It is all very well saying that we have had an easy group, but we have qualified like this because we have been psyched up for every game. We know that it is in the first two games of each group stage when you are playing to earn later peace of mind. «We did our homework and we are now reaping the reward for that.» (Reuters)

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.