Panathinaikos FC coach Alberto Malesani has called on supporters "to take confidence" from recent results as the Athenians look to take their first Group C points against Werder Bremen on Tuesday.
Fans had been quick to voice their displeasure at an indifferent start to the season which yielded just two points from their opening three Alpha Ethniki fixtures and a 3-0 UEFA Champions League loss at Udinese Calcio. However, Malesani believes Saturday's maiden victory of the campaign against Panionios NFC can spur Panathinaikos on to further success as Bremen - defeated 2-0 at home by FC Barcelona on Matchday 1 - also seek gains in the capital.
"We have shown a lot of improvement and the fact we haven't conceded a goal in our last two league matches speaks for itself," said the Italian. "We are in much better shape than when we played Udinese. The fans must take confidence from that and have confidence in us because we need them by our side, particularly in the Champions League. A draw will not put us out of the competition but beating Bremen is crucial for our campaign."
Right-back Loukas Vintra was in agreement with his coach, stressing that he and his team-mates had to put the heavy loss in Italy behind them and "prove on the pitch that we're better placed to do well" than a fortnight ago. Despite trumpeting recent progress, the 51-year-old Malesani knows the Greens face a stiff test against Bremen: "They have a lot of internationals, are from one of the best leagues in Europe, and are among the best sides in Europe."
Pulling the strings for the visitors will be Johan Micoud, the former French international who worked under Malesani at Parma FC. "Micoud, in particular, is a player with a lot of imagination and is very dangerous," said his former boss. "Even though Bremen are extremely dangerous in attack, they are also very strong in midfield and that is where our focus should be."
As a result, Flavio Conceição, a Champions League winner with Real Madrid CF, and Igor Bišćan, part of the Liverpool FC squad that lifted the trophy in May, will be paired together irrespective of whether Malesani decides to ditch his favoured 4-4-2 system for a more guarded approach. The latter option would see three central defenders deployed and a striker sacrificed, leaving the coach to choose whether to field Hungary forward Sándor Torghelle or Polish international Emmanuel Olisadebe.
'Like a final'
Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf is well aware of Panathinaikos's propensity to tinker, saying: "We know they continually switch their side so we'll have to decide how to play them on the night. However, we have to take them very seriously as this match is totally different from a league game." Midfielder Tim Borowski also underlined the importance of the tie: "It's like a final because both teams need the points. Panathinaikos are very experienced in the Champions League and have home advantage, but we're here to win."
Even though Bremen's Petri Pasanen picked up an injury on Sunday and failed to make the plane to Greece, Schaaf will be able to reunite Miroslav Klose with Ivan Klasnić in attack after the German international completed a suspension. The duo served warning of their threat by each finding the net in Saturday's 2-1 victory against Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
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