Clubs brace for Champions League

Greek soccer teams are stepping up their preparations ahead of their European games, having finally found out who their opponents will be. Champion Olympiakos will be facing either Slovan Bratislava of Slovakia or Zrinjski Mostar of Bosnia for the third qualifying round of the Champions League on July 28-29 and August 4-5, with the first match away. In their bid to be as ready as possible, the Reds played a friendly game with Germany’s Bochum on Saturday and drew 3-3 away. Striker Costas Mitroglou scored all three goals for Olympiakos. The match marked the debut of Italian midfielder Enzo Maresca in the red jersey. Manager Temuri Ketsbaia’s squad returned to Greece yesterday and will host Dutch club Groningen in a friendly on Wednesday at the Karaiskaki Stadium. Panathinaikos will also play in the Champions League qualifiers on the same dates against Sparta Prague, with the first match in the Czech Republic. This is the same club Panathinaikos defeated both home and away last August on the way to reaching to the group stage of Europe’s top club competition. Tonight at 7 p.m., Panathinaikos is visiting Borussia Moenchengladbach for a friendly game that will be its last before it returns to Greece. On Friday, the Greens had a disappointing performance, losing 1-0 to another German club, Hoffenheim. Andreas Ivanschitz, the former Austria midfielder, left Panathinaikos over the weekend to join Germany’s Mainz. AEK’s effort to acquire Brazilian striker Leonardo from Levadiakos bore no fruit in the end, as the Livadia club decided to hold on to the player. Manager Dusan Bajevic and his team are in Austria but their friendly game with Czech champions Slavia Prague was canceled on Saturday due to a waterlogged pitch. AEK will now play its first friendly game in Austria against Romanian cup winner Cluj tomorrow. Iraklis lost to the same Romanian club 2-0 yesterday. PAOK has drawn Norway’s Valerenga for the Europa League, the new round of games that has replaced the UEFA Cup. The first match will be in Oslo on July 30 and the return leg in Thessaloniki on August 6. Last night PAOK defeated Dutch side Willem II Tilburg 2-0 away. Finally, Larissa returned from its 2-0 loss at KR Reykjavik in the Europa League last Thursday to learn that if it overcomes the Iceland side this Thursday, it will face Swiss giants FC Basel in the next round.