By Patrick Hart
AEK Athens FC have a proud tradition to uphold when they face Real Madrid CF on Wednesday night in a meeting of the two unbeaten teams in Group C.
'Nothing to fear'
AEK are the only Greek club to have defeated the European champions, and believe accordingly that they "have nothing to fear" from the encounter at the Nikos Goumas stadium. "We have nothing to lose against Real," coach Dusan Bajevic said. "We must believe in ourselves and give it our best shot. But we must also be on our guard for 90 minutes."
Staying focused was no problem in AEK's first two games - goalless draws against KRC Genk and AS Roma. Now they will aim to go one better and repeat their 1-0 win against Madrid in the 1985/86 UEFA Cup. Captain Mihalis Kasapis said: "When we play at home, we always play to win. If we win, we will make history."
Difficult for AEK
Not that a home success would guarantee AEK's progress into the next round. It was Madrid, 5-0 victors in the second leg at the Bernabéu, who lifted silver in May 1986. And as Bajevic is all too aware, his side have yet to visit either of the group favourites. "It will be difficult for us to get points in our two remaining away games against Madrid and Roma," he admitted.
Madrid have no such worries. The Merengues might never have won on Greek soil, but they travel to Athens with a comfortable six-point cushion after beating Roma and Genk.
The gap between the clubs seems vast indeed. On the day AEK owner Makis Psomiadis was jailed for 12 years for forgery, his opposite number was looking at a rather more favourable timescale - Madrid president Florentino Pérez insisting Ronaldo would be in a Madrid shirt soon and "for many years to come".
Hierro left out
The Brazilian is unavailable on Wednesday while coach Vicente del Bosque has taken the luxury of resting captain Fernando Hierro. The captain's replacement in the squad is youngster Rubén, although the returning Iván Helguera is the likelier deputy on the pitch. Instead it is another talented tyro who heads the queue for a Champions League debut - scoring sensation Javier Portillo.
In the treatment room
Contrast that with Bajevic's stockpile of injuries. "I would prefer to have all my players ready," said the Yugoslavian, after left-back Grigorios Georgatos added his name to a list including goalkeeper Elias Atmatsidis, defenders Vassilios Borbokis and Michel Kreek, and forward Dimitrios Nalitzis.
Away form falters
However, Madrid are never quite so invincible away from home, as they showed in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Real Valladolid. Del Bosque said afterwards that it was not time to "start creating a psychosis about our away form" - but they may yet be unnerved by an old ghost in Athens on Wednesday night.
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