Draws for both sides in their latest Super League outings have allowed Olympiacos CFP to extend their lead at the top into double figures. With AEK also losing 2-0 at home to Paris Saint-Germain FC in midweek European action, while Panathinaikos went down 3-1 at RC Lens, both need a morale boost. And with first and second places in the Super League earning UEFA Champions League entry, Sunday's match is almost being seen as a play-off for the continent's top club competition.
As hosts, AEK will be particularly keen to improve on some mixed form in 2007. However, coach Lorenzo Serra Ferrer has Panagiotis Lagos and Perparim Hetemaj sidelined until the end of the season, while Akis Zikos and Traianos Dellas have been shorter-term absentees. Moreover, new midfield signing Pantelis Kafes only made his debut on Wednesday after recovering from injury.
The PSG game also took its toll, though, as Nikolaos Georgeas and Vassilios Lakis picked up fresh knocks, although the coach refuses to look to the treatment table for excuses. "We know we have problems but we have to accept that and work harder for the remainder of the season," the Spaniard said. "I am also to blame when things don't go well. However, I can't get on the pitch and score goals myself."
For Panathinaikos - one point behind AEK in third position - that may be a relief. The defeat by Lens exposed once more their defensive frailties. Yet, having failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League this term, the greens are doubly determined to get there in 2007/08. Midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz said: "We have to win on Sunday. We have lost a lot of ground in recent weeks and Olympiacos have a big advantage. Second place is a feasible target, though. We can move ahead of AEK. We should have done it at home to OFI Crete last week but didn't take our chances [in a 2-2 draw]."
But with 19 victories to Panathinaikos's 16 in previous meetings between the clubs, AEK may feel the force is with them. What's more, since striker Nikolaos Liberopoulos joined AEK in 2003, he has never been on the losing side against his old team. Following a week of poor fortune, a lucky charm may yet win the day.
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