Panathinaikos FC's spirits are up after picking up their first UEFA Champions League Group C win on Matchday 2, and now they are hoping that they can pull off a shock result in their home game against pool favourites FC Barcelona in Athens tomorrow night.
Following a 3-0 defeat at Udinese Calcio on Matchday 1, Alberto Malesani's men earned a fine 2-1 win at home against Werder Bremen; a victory which surprised many of the team's supporters and reignited captain Ioannis Goumas's hopes of a place in the knockout rounds. "We had to win that match if we were to remain in the competition," said Goumas. "We played good football and we got what we wanted. We're very optimistic about the future. We are very much alive in our bid to qualify for the next stage. Panathinaikos have great potential and we will just keep on improving."
Malesani has been pleading for supporters' patience for much of the season. Results in the league have been far from earth-shattering, although Saturday's 1-0 home defeat of Akratitos FC moved the Greens to within four points of Olympiacos CFP after the leaders surprisingly dropped their first points of the season when losing 2-1 at home to PAOK FC yesterday. However, the win against Bremen - coupled with three successive league victories - have brought Panathinaikos back to life. "We had a rocky start to the season, but we have a lot to give," said young defender Filippos Darlas. "We now have a good chance to advance."
Harangued for tinkering with his tactics during the season, Malesani seems to have hit on a winning formula with relatively unknown Hungarian international Sándor Torghelle having set up a goal apiece for surprise starter Evangelos Mantzios and Ezequiel González against Bremen. None the less, former Panionios GS striker Mantzios was not letting his first goal in the UEFA Champions League go to his head as he looked ahead to the remainder of his side's Group C games. "This is a very difficult group, and we must win all our home fixtures to have a chance," he said.
If they are to achieve that aim, Panathinaikos will need to produce something special against a Barça side who have won their first two group stage games at a canter despite picking up only ten points from the opening ten games of their Spanish Primera División defence. But with the wind in their sails, it would be unwise to write off Malesani's men just yet. "When we play Barcelona we will fight with all our might to win," said Goumas. "We all know Barcelona will win the group, but we will fight for second place against Bremen and Udinese."
Malesani has always maintained that his new-look Panathinaikos side would make history. A win against Barcelona would certainly be an epochal success.
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