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No sympathy for struggling Roma

Published: Wednesday 25 September 2002, 3.10CET
Points rather than opponents AS Roma are the priority for Group C hopefuls AEK Athens FC.

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Published: Wednesday 25 September 2002, 3.10CET

No sympathy for struggling Roma

Points rather than opponents AS Roma are the priority for Group C hopefuls AEK Athens FC.

By Patrick Hart

AEK Athens FC coach Dusan Bajevic has told his players to forget about troubled Group C opponents AS Roma and focus instead on gaining the club's first UEFA Champions League win in eight years.

Poor start
Fabio Capello's team provide the opposition as the Champions League returns to the Nikos Goumas stadium tonight for the first time since the 1994/95 campaign. Roma have made a poor start to the season, league defeats by Bologna FC and Modena FC sandwiching last week's 3-0 home loss against Real Madrid CF. Roma's assistant coach Italo Galbiati called the latter defeat a "massacre" but AEK trainer Bajevic refused "to get carried away by Roma's problems".

AEK's big chance
"We will not fear them, nor will we underestimate them," said Bajevic. "We want to win, but it remains to be seen if Roma are in bad shape." He added that victory would give AEK "a chance to advance to the next round" following last week's opening-night draw at KRC Genk. "If we don't win, then our chances are slim," he warned.

Absent friends
The Serbian coach will hope goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis shakes off a leg injury sustained in Sunday's league game against Xanthi FC, because his likely replacement, Elias Atmatsidis, is also rated doubtful. Definitely out, however, are defenders Vassilios Borbokis and Michel Kreek.

Back from suspension
Unlike Roma, AEK approach the game in good heart after Themistoklis Nikolaidis's solitary goal gave them three points at Xanthi and a share of first place in the Alpha Ethniki. But visitors Roma are at least boosted by the return from suspension of Gabriel Batistuta and Francisco Lima for their first trip to Greece since an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tie against FC Aris Thessaloniki 38 years ago.

Homage to Batistuta
AEK defender Mihalis Kapsis said of the former's inclusion: "Hundreds of defenders much better than me have had the privilege of facing Batistuta and losing."

End of an era
Giallorossi captain Francesco Totti, who scored in the 2-1 home reverse against Modena, is banned, however. That defeat brought to an end the club's 38-game unbeaten record at the Stadio Olimpico and sparked unrest among supporters. Nonetheless, Totti's deputy as skipper, Damiano Tommasi, has refused to write off his team's chances. "We have many games in which to make amends," said the Italian international midfield player.

Few favours
Whether Roma can make amends in Athens remains to be seen. They can expect few favours from their hosts as they go in search of a pick-me-up result. "We have one goal - not to become the aspirin for Roma's recent headaches," said the AEK midfield player Vassilios Tsartas.

Last updated: 25/09/02 15.30CET