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Defender Nikos Spiropoulos says Panathinaikos FC have learned from their mistakes as they prepare to vie with Anorthosis Famagusta FC for the right to join FC Internazionale Milano in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages.
With Inter top of Group B, their place in the last 16 assured, the match between Panathinaikos and Anorthosis in Athens is effectively a play-off to decide who accompanies them. A point ahead, the Greek side can afford to draw and still go through but memories of their 3-1 defeat when the sides met on Matchday 2 are still fresh. That night Panathinaikos arrived with half an eye on a draw and were 2-0 down within 15 minutes. Having helped to revive the Greens' fortunes in their away wins against Werder Bremen and Inter, Spiropoulos is keen to avoid making the same mistake twice. "We saw what happened when we were too cautious – we lost. I think we've learned our lesson," he said. "We must impose our game and go for the win. Anorthosis are a good team but, if we are honest, we were a different side back then. Now we are confident and we want this win."
The 25-year-old Spiropoulos has established himself at left-back since joining Panathinaikos from Panionios GSS in January, his combination of pace, strength and agility also catching the eye of Greece coach Otto Rehhagel. He has thrived despite the weight of expectation attendant on representing one of the nation's biggest clubs, a trait that may apply to Henk Ten Cate's side as a whole. "We tend to play better under pressure, but it's not the ideal situation to have every game," he said. "Nevertheless, when we are under pressure the team seem to show their true colours. We just need to focus on giving our best performance and then we will get the result we need to qualify."
For Anorthosis it is more complicated as they require a victory to advance, possibly as group winners, although should they lose and Bremen triumph at home to Inter the Cypriot outfit would not even have the consolation of a UEFA Cup spot. That is not an eventuality defender Andreas Constantinou is contemplating, however, as he believes his team can pull off "the miracle" of overcoming Panathinaikos in front of an expected 70,000-capacity crowd at the OACA Spiros Louis Stadium. "Anything can happen in football," he said. "Even when things are not going your way, things can still happen just as long as you believe. We've not been favourites in any of our games. This is the chance of a lifetime for us and it is something that some of us may never experience again."
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