Ezequiel González led the charge for Panathinaikos FC on Tuesday as the Greek side put a slow start to the season behind them with 2-1 victory against Werder Bremen in Group C of the UEFA Champions League.
Man-of-the-match González scored a fifth-minute penalty and hit the woodwork twice as Panathinaikos bounced back from their disappointing 3-0 defeat by Udinese Calcio on Matchday 1 with a confident and entertaining performance. The inspirational 25-year-old Argentinian also scored in his side’s first domestic league win of the season against Panionios NFC at the weekend, and he tells uefa.com that the Greens "can only get better".
uefa.com: How do you feel after such a crazy match against Werder Bremen?
Ezequiel González: It was crazy all right, played at a manic pace, especially in the second half. But we got what we deserved, all three points. We worked very hard in a very demanding encounter and we displayed high-quality football. That's very rewarding, as for some time now the results haven't been there. Our work in training hasn’t shown on the pitch. But we managed to improve our image, our play, and that‘s the best thing to come out of the encounter against Werder Bremen.
uefa.com: You seemed to enjoy the match immensely…
González: Yes, I felt very comfortable on the pitch. I scored a goal, I could have scored at least three more, but I hit the post twice and the German goalkeeper [Andreas Reinke] made a spectacular save. I like these tough matches with a fast rhythm, where you have to work hard. But the important thing is the three points.
uefa.com: Did you feel under pressure to win?
González: We always play to win. There was no extra stress, because it's only the second match in the group. We went into the match to enjoy it, to play good football and, in the end, we also celebrated a valuable victory.
uefa.com: After some negative results at the start of the season, you have now won twice in a row, in the league and in Europe. What do you expect from Panathinaikos from now on?
González: I'm confident we can only get better. Our improvement is evident both in the league match against Panionios, where we won 3-0, and in our performance [against Bremen].
We showed we have the class and the players to go forward and produce more positive results. Hopefully we can prove our mediocre start was just a bad spell.
uefa.com: Why do you think Panathinaikos got off to such a slow start?
González: The continuous ins and outs of players for various reasons - injuries, suspensions. That slowed down our work and progression. Also we have a lot of newcomers in our team this season and building a new squad has been time-consuming.
uefa.com: How do you fancy Panathinaikos’s chances of reaching the last 16?
González: I don't think [FC] Barcelona will surrender top spot, the battle is on for second place. Panathinaikos, Udinese and even Bremen, despite having no points so far, all have good chances of progressing. A lot will depend on the outcome of the games between the Italian and German sides, but all three teams will hope to clinch second spot.
uefa.com: There is an on-going debate in Greece about whether you should play behind the strikers or in a more defensive role. Where do you feel most comfortable?
González: I really don't prefer one position to the other. I feel comfortable playing wherever my coach tells me to and adapting my style to the needs of the squad. Nowadays, I play beside the defensive midfielder with the liberty to move forward and things have been working out. When circumstances demand it, perhaps I will move more forward.
uefa.com: Panathinaikos youngsters Evagelos Mantzios, Filippos Darlas and Alexandros Tziolis impressed against Bremen. How did you rate their performance?
González: They were spectacular. They are very disciplined and talented. And, despite making their debut in the UEFA Champions League, they were not overwhelmed, they did not hide, they had no stage-fright. They worked non-stop, as they do in training. They listen, they learn, they want to contribute and it shows. The coach [Alberto Malesani] trusts their abilities and they're improving constantly.
uefa.com: You're seven points behind leaders Olympiacos CFP in the Greek League. Can you catch them?
González: We can only get better. In our last league match [against Panionios] we showed improvement and there are many matches ahead of us. Nothing is lost after just four encounters. Our goals have not altered. We want to win the league and the cup and we want to go as far as possible in the Champions League. A few setbacks have not changed our aspirations.
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