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By Paris Ayiomamitis in Athens
Repairing battered pride will be top of Panathinaikos FC's agenda when they welcome Manchester United FC to Athens in Group E of the UEFA Champions League.
Old Trafford defeat
While the English Premiership champions need just a draw to ensure their place in the last 16, the Greek side will be trying to wipe out the memory of their humiliating 5-0 defeat at Old Trafford on Matchday 1 - and their recent elimination from contention for the knockout stages. As well as saving face, Panathinaikos are also seeking to keep alive their hopes of finishing third and clinching a UEFA Cup place. However with only one point from four matches to third-placed Rangers FC's four, that too is a tall order.
Shum stays positive
Nevertheless, coach Itzhak Shum is staying positive. "
We are playing against one of the best teams in the world and it's a chance to prove we have a great passion to win," he said. "We have the quality to play against big teams and get results."
Panathinaikos's prestige in European football is also at the forefront of the players' minds. "We have a great opportunity against a great team to restore our reputation in Europe," said goalkeeper Andonis Nikopolidis, who is especially keen to put the nightmare at Old Trafford behind him.
Emmanuel Olisadebe and Sotiris Kyrgiakos are both out with long-term injuries, while Shum has also confirmed that South African defender Nasief Morris is doubtful. Intriguingly, he also indicated he may be set to experiment in some way with his lineup. "We will play two or three young players and I’m confident they will deliver," he said.
Panathinaikos drew 1-1 with arch-rivals Olympiacos CFP at the weekend and have been in improved form of late, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. "I saw them against Stuttgart and they played very well until they scored and they deserved better," he said. "My experience three years ago tells me that they can't be taken lightly.
'Silly to be complacent'
"We were lucky to get a draw [then]," Sir Alex added, in reference to the 2000/01 Champions League game when his side needed a late Paul Scholes goal to escape from Athens with a 1-1 draw. Fearing a lapse of concentration, Ferguson has warned his players against taking Wednesday's game for granted. "It will be silly to be complacent.
You don’t win games being complacent," he said.
United will be without the commanding midfield presence of Roy Keane who has a slight hamstring problem and a weekend appointment against Chelsea FC approaching. "I've preferred not to risk Roy, we have plenty of options in midfield," Sir Alex said. With no other injury concerns, United will expect a positive result - if Panathinaikos can deny them, their pride will indeed have been restored.
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