Panathinaikos FC must up their intensity levels to have any chance of overturning a 2-0 deficit in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off against Málaga CF.
That was the message from coach Jesualdo Ferreira who called on his players to hit the ground running in the Athens sequel, rather than risk a repeat of the first leg where they were two goals down inside 34 minutes.
"We must be more confident, keep faith and play with greater intensity than we did in the first leg," said Ferreira in his pre-match press conference. "It's one thing to play in the Spanish league and another to play in the Greek league," he added. "We need more intensity and hard work."
The Portuguese coach admitted his team faced "a great challenge" but believes hope remains for a club with a history of comebacks – twice in the last six years Panathinaikos have recovered two-goal arrears in UEFA Champions League qualifying. "Tomorrow the match starts at 0-0. We are a great club and we will put up a fight to go through," said Ferreira, whose centre-back Jean-Alain Boumsong has succumbed to the right calf injury he picked up in Malaga.
Ferreira is also missing Quincy Owusu-Abeyie (gastroenteritis) but his captain Kostas Katsouranis should feature despite the groin problem that meant he sat out Saturday's opening Greek Super League fixture, a 1-0 win at Levadiakos FC in which scorer Loukas Vyntra deputised for Boumsong in central defence and Kosta Barbarouses made his debut.
Málaga, for their part, warmed up with a 1-1 Liga home draw with RCD Mallorca, Juanmi equalising in a game that brought a red card for Eliseu, a scorer against Panathinaikos last week. The Andalusian side's coach Manuel Pellegrini has included Uruguay forward Seba – absent from the first-leg squad – yet is without Enzo Maresca, pending an expected transfer to UC Sampdoria.
Pellegrini may have lost another player but he is undaunted about a trip to the AKA Spiros Louis Stadium where he previously won 2-1 with Villarreal CF in the 2008/09 round of 16. "
Panathinaikos are a strong side but we do not fear them or their passionate supporters," said Pellegrini. "I don't believe the atmosphere at the stadium will impact us negatively. On the contrary, it may even be a boost."
Another early goal from Málaga, as last Wednesday, would probably be decisive against opponents with just three victories from 24 previous outings against Spanish teams. "I can't predict how Panathinaikos will react if we score first," said Pellegrini, who is 90 minutes away from taking Málaga into the group stage for the first time. His counterpart Ferreira, however, is determined that does not come to pass. "
We have to remain in control throughout the match and be fully focused mentally. We must not allow them to score."
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