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By Patrick Hart
A first UEFA Champions League win is the goal for KRC Genk and AEK Athens FC when the sides meet at the Fenixstadion on Tuesday night.
All to play for
Belgian champions Genk make their competition debut in the Group C opener, while Greek league runners-up AEK will want to improve on a record of two draws and four defeats from their previous appearance at this level in 1994/95.
The form book offers few clues to the outcome. Both teams have made sound starts to their domestic campaigns. Genk beat KFC Lommelse SK 4-1 on Saturday to add to a 5-2 thrashing of KFC Germinal Beerschot Antwerpen three days before. While AEK warmed up with a 1-0 home victory over Panathinaikos FC at the weekend.
'Too much pressure'
Looking ahead to the AEK tie, which Genk reached by defeating AC Sparta Praha in the third qualifying round, coach Sef Vergoossen said: "Everyone thinks we have to win our first match against AEK because the other teams in the group [AS Roma and Real Madrid CF] seem so much stronger. But that is putting too much pressure on the squad."
Ins and outs
Vergoossen has Thomas Chatelle, Wilfried Delbroek, Davy Schollen and Justice Wamfor available again for selection, though Akran Roumani Roumani is out with a hamstring injury. There is also a question mark against the fitness of Gambian international Seyfo Soley.
'Nothing to worry about'
Vergoossen's AEK counterpart, Dusan Bajevic, had cause for optimism after Ilija Ivic's goal saw off derby rivals Panathinaikos and lifted his team to second place in the Hellenic National League. "This victory will give us a real lift for the Genk match," he said. "In the Champions League you cannot classify games as easy or difficult, but if AEK play to their potential, they have nothing to worry about."
Except, perhaps, for the Genk strikers Wesley Sonck and Beli-Moumouni Dagano. Bajevic, who led Olympiakos Piraeus FC to the last eight in 1999, admitted: "Most Greek fans won't know about Genk, but we do. They are a disciplined team with two outstanding forwards. We have to be focused to get a result."
AEK overcame Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia FC in their qualifying tie, Costa Rican defender Mauricio Wright scoring the only goal of the return leg to complete a 4-2 aggregate success.
Missing from action
"We achieved our objective which was qualification. AEK are the most experienced team in Greece and as the competition goes on we will pick up our rhythm," added Bajevic, who is without substitute goalkeeper Elias Atmatsidis as well as Walter Centeno, Christos Kostis, Stelios Maistrelis and Livio Armando Prieto.
As with the form book, so with the history one. There is little to gauge from the fact Genk have never faced Greek opposition, while AEK's last Belgian encounter, 25 years ago, ended in defeat by R. Standard de Liège in the UEFA Cup. What matters, then, is which team makes the better start on Tuesday night, especially with games against Roma and Madrid still to come.
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