AEK takes on Roma

A win in Athens tonight against a Roma team shaken by its 3-0 home thrashing by Real Madrid in the Champions League first round of group play last week would greatly boost AEK’s chances of a berth in the lucrative soccer competition’s second phase. Star-studded fellow Group C member Real Madrid, widely considered a hot favorite for this season’s title, is expected to breeze through to the second round of group play as group winner. If so, AEK would need to oust Roma, the group’s other powerhouse, from second place for a berth as runner-up. A win tonight would give the Greek team a promising four-point advantage. In prematch comments, AEK coach Dusan Bajevic described tonight’s opponent as a strong and experienced team graced with exceptional players. The absence of star forward Francesco Totti, Italy’s soccer player of the year in 2000, Bajevic noted, would play no role. «This team has many options and a very sturdy defense,» Bajevic said. AEK’s boss Makis Psomiadis, a controversial figure with a long history of confrontations – including an ongoing one with ruling PASOK General Secretary Costas Laliotis – will not see his side play because he has been hospitalized, claiming respiratory and pulmonary problems. Laliotis, a former long-serving public works minister, filed a forgery suit against Psomiadis after the latter claimed that Laliotis accepted kickbacks from bidders for the new Athens International Airport. Psomiadis supported his case by running documents of dubious origin in his now-defunct tabloid To Onoma. The case’s progress, however, has remained stagnant. AEK’s strongman has avoided court appearances citing medical reasons and following up with conveniently timed hospitalization. Psomiadis entered the hospital on Monday, ahead of a hearing scheduled for tomorrow. But, following an examination of medical reports, the court has ruled that he is fit enough to face trial. Roma, meanwhile, is in some disarray, following defeats at the hands of Real and Bologna (1-2), the latter in the opening round of the Italian League campaign. A group of around 100 hardcore fans («ultras») protested outside the team’s training ground on Monday, demanding the resignation of coach Fabio Capello and President Franco Sensi. «Capello is the coach of Roma and he will resolve the problems… He has a first-class squad of players,» said Sensi.