Greek clubs have enjoyed a measure of dominance over teams from the Czech Republic of late and Panathinaikos FC and FC PAOK Thessaloniki, who meet FC Slovan Liberec and SK Slavia Praha respectively in UEFA Cup third round second-leg ties today, will be keen to continue the trend.
Four out of four
Last term, Panathinaikos won all four of their games against Czech sides, beating Slavia, in the qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, and AC Sparta Praha, in the second group stage, home and away. PAOK, meanwhile, have a one-goal advantage from their home first-leg tie against Slavia to go with an 8-3 aggregate victory over FC Príbram in the UEFA Cup first round last season.
Panathinaikos in fine form
Panathinaikos were held 2-2 by Slovan a fortnight ago despite taking the lead twice, first through an Angelos Bassinas penalty and then through Emmanuel Olisadebe's close-range finish. However, the return match will be played in a packed Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium and the Greek club will be looking to move swiftly into the fourth round. The form of Sergio Markarian's team should also give them added belief as they are unbeaten in the Greek league since mid-September and are nicely poised in third place, two points off the top.
Konstantinou ruled out
Markarian is expected to leave out off-form striker Michalis Konstantinou on Thursday, while there are doubts over defensive midfielder Bassinas who may be replaced by Eric Lincar. However, Olisadebe, the Nigerian-born Polish striker, is fit and on fire, having scored twice in the weekend victory over Iraklis FC.
Taking nothing for granted
Despite all the good omens, however, Markarian is taking nothing for granted. "I have never seen a team put so much pressure on the opposition in all areas of the pitch," he said. "
We must be very disciplined and focused, because Slovan will press for the ball and look for a counter-attack. They are very dangerous."
Kinsky missing again
Slovan miss their injured goalkeeper Antonín Kinsky, who was the hero of their penalty shoot-out victory in the second round against Ipswich Town FC. He will be replaced by Zbynek Hauzr as he was in the first leg.
PAOK, meanwhile, beat Slavia 1-0 in the first leg thanks to a goal from the Alpha Ethniki's top scorer, Giorgos Georgiadis. Should the Greek side continue their dominance over Czech opponents it will be an historic event for the club as they have never progressed beyond this stage of the competition.
Potent in attack
However, the PAOK squad that travels to Prague is disrupted by injuries as coach Angelos Anastassiadis is shorn of goalkeeper Vangelis Pourliotopoulos and strikers Sladjan Spasic from Yugoslavia and Cameroon's Guy Feutchine. They do, though, have Giannakis Okkas, Giasemakis Giasemi and Nikos Froussos available in attack, and Anastassiadis sees them as key to PAOK's hopes. "We are going to Prague to win," he said after the Greek league leaders defeated Ionikos on Sunday. PAOK have scored in all their matches this term, both in the league and the UEFA Cup, and Anastassiadis added: "We will play as we usually do - offensively."
Slavia will be hoping that the near-freezing conditions help their players but will be without defender Radek Bejbl who has an ankle injury. Striker Tomáš Dosek has a foot problem but should be fit to play as Slavia look to put an end to the recent Greek hegemony.
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