SPORTS

Panathinaikos coach keeps hope alive for club tonight

Panathinaikos, one of the country’s two clubs still competing in this season’s UEFA Cup, has serious work to do in its return leg tonight against visiting Lens if it is to advance to the next stage, the Round of 16. The Athens club will be going into the game knowing that it must score at least twice to progress following a 3-1 defeat at Lens. AEK, the competition’s other Greek survivor, is all but finished ahead of its return leg, tonight, in France, against Paris Saint-Germain. The Greek team suffered a seemingly irreparable 2-0 loss at home in the first leg. «We’ve got the home ground advantage, the passion, and we’ll have our fans backing us, so we can advance,» remarked a confident-sounding Victor Munoz, Panathinaikos’s coach, at a news conference yesterday. Panathinaikos will be going into the encounter spurred by an impressive domestic performance last weekend, a 4-1 away win against AEK. The two clubs are currently battling for the Greek Super League’s second spot, which secures a place in the Champions League’s pre-group qualifiers next season. Responding to a question on whether Panathinaikos will pursue an early goal tonight, Munoz noted, «It would be fantastic to start with a goal because that would pave the way for qualification and greater faith in the game.» In the first leg, Panathinaikos came close to setting itself a lighter task for tonight. The Athens club trailed 2-1 until the final minute of play, but Lens extended its lead from the penalty spot. Commenting on his team’s chances, striker Vangelis Mantzios told the news conference that «Lens has the advantage but we have the fans and will manage.» Encouraged by their team’s strong performance against AEK last weekend, over 50,000 Panathinaikos fans are expected in the stands at the 63,000-capacity Athens Olympic Stadium. It will take a miracle for AEK to overcome its 2-0 first-leg loss against PSG tonight. Though club officials refused to admit it, AEK appeared to be fielding a team that was below full strength in anticipation of last weekend’s unsuccessful domestic clash against Panathinaikos.