If Dimitris Salpingidis takes the field in PAOK FC's final Group L game, at home to AZ Alkmaar on Thursday, he will make his 67th appearance in the UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League.
Not a particularly attractive number, but one that carries a certain significance for the 32-year-old forward since it will move him up to fourth place – alongside Walid Badier – in the competition's all-time appearances list. Two more in the round of 32 would take him level with FC Internazionale Milano's two-time UEFA Cup-winning goalkeeper Walter Zenga in third. Moreover, a third group stage goal this season would lift him to seventh in the overall scorers rankings on 24 goals, alongside Mladen Petrić and Claudio Pizarro.
The tournament has played a significant role in Salpingidis's career; his maiden goal for PAOK came on his first-team debut when he was introduced as a substitute for Zisis Vryzas – now PAOK's president – in a UEFA Cup game against FC Lokomotivi Tbilisi on 30 September 1999. Meanwhile, his 100th goal for the 'Two-Headed Eagle Of The North' arrived in PAOK's first meeting with AZ of the current campaign. Oddly enough, both landmark goals were scored under Dutch coaches: Arie Haan in 1999 and Huub Stevens in 2013.
Born in Salonika, Salpingidis started out as a Greco-Roman wrestler before discovering his calling in football. "I am from Salonika and have supported PAOK all my life," the interview-shy striker once said. He joined the club aged 16 and became a striking talisman, with his 2006 departure for Panathinaikos FC the cause of much concern for the then cash-strapped side. He scored regularly and won a Super League title in Athens, yet has continued to find the target since returning to PAOK in 2010.
Greece have also been grateful for his finishing prowess. It was Salpingidis's play-off goal against Ukraine that took Greece to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and he is the only Greek player to have scored at both a UEFA European Championship and a World Cup. "I can't explain why I get to score crucial goals," Salpingidis said. "My only concern is for the team to win and I do my best to contribute. Goals are also a matter of luck. I see the ball, my opponent's position and I don't blink – I just shoot to score."
That down-to-earth style is Salpingidis all over. He rarely demands attention, but woe betide the opposition defence that lets him out of their sight. Having already notched three times against AZ in past European tussles, he is eager to make his mark again as the already qualified teams reconvene, battling for top spot in Group L. "Qualifying for the last 32 with a match to spare was a success," he said. "I hope we can go further in the competition, but we need to secure first place and then see who we land in the draw. We have to be consistent in our performances and also have luck in order to get beyond the last 32."
Consistency and good luck (the kind you work for), as he has shown throughout his career, are two of Salpingidis's strong points.
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