Panathinaikos FC striker Djibril Cissé can feel passions stirring ahead of his first derby against Olympiacos FC.
The 28-year-old French international has been in Athens for just six months, but has already been struck by the fervour of the fans of Greece's two biggest clubs, who meet on Sunday with Panathinaikos two points clear of their rivals at the top of the standings. "It's more than football here in Athens – it's a lifestyle," said the former AJ Auxerre, Liverpool FC, Olympique de Marseille and Sunderland AFC player. "When you go out, all people talk about is football. I'm not going to repeat the words they use, but Panathinaikos and Olympiacos fans don't like each other. The great thing I like, however, is that it's not violent, it's great fun. It's all about passion, it's about pride. The fans want their team to be the king of Athens and they want to be the kings of Athens. It's good. To me it's exciting."
Olympiacos have won 12 of the last 13 Greek titles, and have fared better in the last 100 Athens derbies, with 35 wins to Panathinaikos's 25, but the Greens are optimistic as they chase a first championship since 2004. Cissé is the Super League's joint-top scorer with eight goals and is keen to add to his tally against the Red-and-Whites from Piraeus. A veteran of some fiery derby games with his previous clubs, Cissé is dreaming of a winner in his first Athens grudge match. "Of course that drives me on and I'm quite lucky on derby days in general," he said. "I scored for Auxerre on derby day, I managed to do the same twice for Marseille against Paris Saint-Germain, for Sunderland against Newcastle and I also scored for Liverpool against Everton."
'Who's the boss'
To get the winner he seeks, Cissé will need to find a way past Antonis Nikopolidis, who is preparing for his 23rd participation in what the Greek press call "the mother of all battles", having helped Panathinaikos beat his current side 4-3 in his first derby in February 1990. "It's a special game; a matter of pride and prestige," Nikopolidis, who turns 39 in January, told uefa.com. "It determines who's boss." The final 2009 edition has an extra edge given that both sides are unbeaten in the league but have shown signs of weakness recently. Last week Olympiacos drew 2-2 at PAS Giannina FC while Asteras Tripolis FC held Panathinaikos 1-1. "The Greek League is not just this derby; we are not playing alone," said Nikopolidis. "We have both dropped valuable points to sides who want to make our lives difficult."
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