PAO takes on Villarreal

Panathinaikos returns to Champions League action tonight with a tough game at Villarreal in Spain, the first leg of the competition’s second round. The Greens left yesterday full of the confidence that their away wins over Inter Milan and Werder Bremen earlier this season have given them, although the knockout stages of Europe’s top club competition always prove a very different proposition to the groups. Having lost all its games played in Spain for the Champions League, Panathinaikos will try to avoid defeat for the first time today (9.45 p.m.) at a ground where Villarreal has – in contrast – never lost in the same competition. «A 1-1 score would be ideal,» said Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz before the squad boarded its flight to Spain. «We will try to create scoring chances,» said Panathinaikos coach Henk ten Cate at the pre-match press conference last night. Although it may sound like stating the obvious, Panathinaikos will have to do just that, rather than focus purely on defending, given the Spanish side’s weakness in defense and particularly in set pieces. Defender Loukas Vintra is nursing an injury and ten Cate will have to wait until just before kickoff to decide whether he will field the Greece player. Villarreal, which has been keen to shake off the label of favorite in this tie, will be missing defenders Joan Capdevila and Gonzalo Rodriguez and Mexican striker Guille Franco. Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini is set to field two men up front, which may lead ten Cate to start with three men at the back. Tomorrow Olympiakos will try and save face in the second-leg UEFA Cup tie for the round of 32 at Saint Etienne in France. The Greek champion has been hit by many absences due to injuries, including Luciano Galletti, Fernando Belluschi and Didier Domi. Olympiakos will need to score at least three goals at the Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium to have any hopes of advancing, after going down 3-1 in Piraeus last week.

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