Zdeněk Ščasný remembers Greek wine and coffee with fondness but the FK Mladá Boleslav coach has a score to settle with AEK Athens FC as they visit the Czech Republic in the UEFA Cup.
A successful coach in the Czech Republic with AC Sparta Praha and then FK Viktoria Žižkov, Ščasný moved to Greece in 2002, firstly to coach OFI Crete FC and then to take up a scouting post with Panathinaikos FC. He was hired as the club's coach in October 2004 and led them through four games unbeaten in the UEFA Champions League – including back to back draws against Arsenal FC – before resigning in the wake of a Greek Cup defeat against AEK in February 2005.
The 3-1 home defeat saw Panathinaikos fail to reach the last eight of the competition, and though his resignation was not immediately announced, it was the end of the road for Ščasný. "I was very disappointed after the defeat and I decided to leave immediately," he recalled, adding of his time at Panathinaikos: "We played several outstanding games, but we couldn't get to the top of the table and where you are not first, it's always a problem in Greece."
Taking over from Itzhak Shum after the start of the season, Ščasný felt he never had the chance to sculpt Panathinaikos into the team he wanted. "I could not make any summer preparations, I could not influence anything," he recalled. The same thing, unhappily, has been true at Mladá Boleslav this season. He joined the club five games into the season, and results have been sketchy – indeed, they are without a win in their last six league games after a run of three straight wins.
In the UEFA Cup, at least, things are improving. After losing 2-1 at Villarreal CF, a 3-1 win at IF Elfsborg has put Mladá Boleslav back in contention for a last-32 place, and a win against AEK tonight would send them through. However, like goalkeeper Petr Pižanowski who played against AEK during his time at Skoda Xanthi FC, Ščasný knows that is a tall order. "I know AEK very well," he said. "There are probably an even better side than Panathinaikos now."
Nonetheless, with his memories of his time in Greece remaining largely affectionate, Ščasný would love to remind Super League sides of what he is capable of as his side meet AEK. "I used to like a glass of their fine red wine as well as their special strong coffee," said Ščasný as he reflected on his time in Athens. No doubt he will be celebrating with a bit of both if his side can avenge his Panathinaikos exit at the Mestský Stadium.
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