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He may be inexperienced as a coach at club level but Nikos Nioplias will hope his "winning mentality" rubs off on his Panathinaikos FC players in their UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie against R. Standard de Liège.
Appointed in December, Nioplias has overseen 13 wins in 17 games including successive 3-2 victories against AS Roma in the previous round. "People said I lacked experienced; I have tonnes of experience where football is concerned," he said. "I played in a World Cup, a European Under-21 final and was captain of OFI Crete for years. I'm a strong character with a winning mentality."
Turning his attention to Thursday's first leg against Standard, he added: "They've been the strongest team in Belgium in recent years and the tie could go either way. I watched them in the previous round and they were mediocre in the first leg against Salzburg and very good in the second. They like to play attacking football but it's imperative to keep a clean sheet at home and take charge of the tie."
The 45-year-old has promised changes to the side that beat Levadiakos FC 3-0 on Sunday, including a potential return for teenager Sotiris Ninis – superb against Roma – after a hamstring strain. Giourkas Seitaridis has an achilles injury, goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas is ill and Kostas Katsouranis suspended, as is Sebastien Pocognoli for Standard. The Reds have passed Dieudonné Mbokani and goalkeeper Sinan Bolat fit but travelled without Gohi Bi Cyriac and Felipe.
Standard met Olympiacos FC in the UEFA Champions League group stage under former coach László Bölöni, losing away before winning at home, and current incumbent Domenico D'Onofrio believes Panathinaikos are "superior". "They have lots of individual talent, are very strong in attack and score freely – as they showed against Roma," said the 56-year-old, whose side sit seventh in the First League, 25 points off the summit. "For us, European matches are a bonus. Our main goal is to be organised and be able to play our attacking game."
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