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PAOK FC may not have enjoyed the most serene season to date but on Wednesday they need just a point at NK Dinamo Zagreb to reach the UEFA Europa League round of 32.
If things have not exactly run smoothly for PAOK, who have been under the caretaker charge of Ioakim Havos since parting company with Pavlos Dermitzakis in mid-October, there has been a familiar presence to help steady the ship. Greece striker Dimitris Salpingidis returned over the summer after four years at Panathinaikos FC and now has his fingers crossed that his childhood club can get to the business end of the UEFA Europa League.
"It wasn't a difficult decision," Salpingidis said of rejoining the Salonika-based team, who sit second in Group D, one point above Dinamo. "I feel great to be back at PAOK. PAOK are the club where I started my career, this is the city where I was born and raised, so yes, in a way, you could say I am back home.
"We've had some ups and downs," continued the 29-year-old. "We started well and managed to qualify for the Europa League group stage. In the league, results were mediocre at first, but now, after a string of victories, we have climbed the standings.
"We have a good strong team and are very competitive at home. That's why we have a very good chance of progressing to the knockout stages in Europe. But it's simple really.
If a team are good, if the players are good and if they are able to perform to the best of their abilities, then they can achieve something worthwhile in European competition."
He may not have hit his goalscoring heights of yesteryear – including 50 in 103 games during his first spell at PAOK – yet Salpingidis hopes to bring valuable experience to the table against Dinamo, who will go through themselves should they win. His time at Panathinaikos, he believes, has made him a better player than the one that left Salonika in 2006.
"These are valuable experiences and hopefully they will help me and the team in such crucial matches," said the forward. "I believe it was a very positive period for me. As every professional does, I try to improve myself year by year and get more experience on the pitch.
"I will remember those four years fondly, I had a good time and I gained a lot of life experience. However, one player alone cannot be decisive. Football is a team sport and it's collective work that leads a team to good results."
Salpingidis is also confident Greek football is at a "very good level", with Aris Thessaloniki FC similarly well placed to progress. Meanwhile, Charis Mavrias's UEFA Champions League appearance for Panathinaikos FC aged 16 made him the competition's second youngest ever player and was a further sign of a bright future according to Salpingidis.
"There is nothing better than giving time on the pitch to youngsters," he said. "I am optimistic about the future of football when I see a 16-year-old participate in such an important match, such a competition."
For now, though, Salpingidis has ambitions of a big season for his own club, who are third in the Greek Super League. "PAOK's aim is to win their matches, one by one," he said. "Hopefully we will qualify for the next stage of the Europa League, we are very motivated and it will be a huge success for us.
"In the Greek league, we go step by step, one match at a time. PAOK have challenged for the league title in recent years and we will continue on that path. The Greek Cup is another target.
PAOK are a big club and we should go after every competition."
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