SPORTS

With a heavy heart, AEK takes on Sevilla

Officials at UEFA, the governing body for European soccer, yesterday decided that tonight’s return leg in Athens between AEK and Sevilla should go ahead as scheduled. With a Champions League group place at stake, there had been doubts about whether the match should be held in the wake of unprecedented wildfires that in recent days have ravaged large parts of the country and killed at least 60 people. «All the necessary sporting guarantees that the match can take place normally have been met and there are no immediate fire problems in or around the stadium itself,» UEFA said in a statement released yesterday. AEK’s administration sought to have tonight’s game postponed, knowing that it stood little chance of succeeding. Flags at the stadium will be flown at half-mast for the victims. In addition, both teams will wear black armbands and a minute’s silence will be observed before the match. The green light for the match comes just two days after the Greek soccer federation decided to postpone last weekend’s opening round of play in Greek soccer. Archrivals Olympiakos, the defending champion, and Panathinakos, were scheduled to meet in one of five games scheduled for Sunday. As things stand, the Greek league will start this Saturday, with all fixtures shifted one week ahead. But officials have not ruled out postponing the opening round of play for a second time as a result of the unforeseeable developments regarding the ongoing wildfires. AEK will need to overcome a 2-0 loss in Seville a fortnight ago for a lucrative group place in the Champions League. Reflecting the tragedy and shock of the nation as a result of the wildfires, AEK’s international striker Nikos Lymberopoulos, last season’s top scorer in the Greek league, shed tears as he spoke at a pre-match news conference yesterday. «These are very difficult times. It’s irrelevant to talk about soccer. So many of our compatriots are trying to save their livelihoods. Personally speaking, I would have never wanted to stage this game, but it’s not up to me to decide,» said Lymberopoulos, who hails from the region of Messinia in southern Greece, one of the regions of the country worst affected by the wildfires. «Right up until before kick-off, my teammates and I will have our minds focused elsewhere.» AEK will be without their new Argentinean signing, defender Rodolfo Arruabarrena, who is out injured. Sevilla, winner of the past two UEFA Cup titles, will be missing 22-year-old defender Antonio Puerta, who was admitted to intensive care at the weekend after suffering two heart attacks. He collapsed during Sevilla’s 4-1 win against Getafe in the weekend’s opening round of play in the top-tier Primera Liga. Also out is Brazilian right back Daniel Alves, who is seeking a transfer to another club. High-priced negotiations between his club and Chelsea collapsed last week.