AEK hosts PSG in UEFA Cup

AEK, through to the UEFA Cup’s Round of 32 as the third-placed side in the top-tier Champions League’s Group H, hosts Paris Saint-Germain in Athens tonight, the first of two Greek-French soccer encounters over the next couple of nights. Playing tomorrow, Greece’s other UEFA Cup representative, Panathinaikos, through to the competition’s last 32 as the winner of its group in the previous stage, will meet Lens in France. Games from here on will be decided over home-and-away encounters all the way to the UEFA Cup final. Return legs for the Round of 32 are scheduled for February 22. «We need to show our good European side – the quality we had in the Champions League,» said AEK’s Spanish coach Lorenzo Serra Ferrer. If he manages to shake off a minor leg injury, AEK midfielder Akis Zikos, who returned to Greece last summer following a successful four-year period with Monaco between 2002 and 2006, will be up against old teammates from his former French club. PSG midfielders Marcelo Gallardo, Edouard Cisse, and Jerome Rothen all played alongside Zikos at Monaco. Tonight’s match is PSG coach Paul Le Guen’s first European challenge since taking over from Guy Lacombe a little less than a month ago. Ferrer, AEK’s coach, has dealt with French opposition just once before in his career, as the coach of Real Betis, in a 2005/2006 Champions League qualifier. The winner of this tie will meet either Benfica or Dinamo Bucharest in the next round. Interestingly, should AEK and Benfica be the pair to get through to the Round of 16, then the Athens club is likely to be up against its former coach, Fernando Santos, and two former players, Costas Katsouranis and Giorgos Karagounis, both key members of the Greek national team. Santos has faced a storm of protest by fans over the past couple of days as a result of Benfica’s shock elimination from Portuguese cup play following a 2-1 away loss last weekend against second-division club Varzim.