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Panathinaikos face moment of truth

Beaten twice, Panathinaikos FC have no room for error against FC Rubin Kazan and Djibril Cissé warns that with another loss they "can wave goodbye to the Champions League".

Panathinaikos face moment of truth
Panathinaikos face moment of truth ©UEFA.com

With Djibril Cissé having taken Greece by storm last season it was perhaps no surprise to see the French ranks swell at Panathinaikos FC over the summer.

Cissé scored 23 times in 28 league games to help the Greens to the title and after he had flown the flag so successfully for his country, Panathinaikos were quick to strengthen their ties with France when it came to preparing for their UEFA Champions League campaign.

Forward Sidney Govou and defender Jean-Alain Boumsong joined from Olympique Lyonnais and midfielder Damien Plessis from Liverpool FC. Former OGC Nice centre-back Cédric Kanté, a Malian international born in Strasbourg, was already a fixture of Athens' Francophone community.

"Integrating is a bit easier when there are other Frenchmen, especially when there are Frenchmen who have already experienced life in the Greek championship," Boumsong said. "So Djibril and Cédric have made it easier for us to integrate, but you still need a bit of time to adapt."

Not that the French contingent keep themselves to themselves. "We have an affinity which comes together naturally," Boumsong adds. "I'm more at ease with a Frenchman because they speak the same language as me and we have the same habits.

"But as a rule, we don't keep to our corner, it's quite a cosmopolitan group, we all mix. There's a large Greek contingent in the squad, but most of them speak English and they're very open to sharing their experiences with foreigners."

Govou, 31, made the switch after 11 seasons at Lyon where he helped the club to seven successive titles between 2002 and 2008. He cites "a big sporting challenge with the guarantee of challenging for the domestic title and of playing in the Champions League" as his reasons for joining.

Panathinaikos having already lost to FC Barcelona and FC København in Group D, however, and their UEFA Champions League lives are on the line when they face FC Rubin Kazan on Wednesday. "You win you get an extra life; lose and you can wave goodbye to the Champions League," said Cissé. "[Against København] we didn't play as a team. We were too spread out, there wasn't enough cohesion to our play."

Govou, meanwhile, is calling for calm. "We had a similar situation at Lyon in 2008 when we lost our first two Champions League games, against Barcelona in Barcelona, then against Rangers at home, 3-0, and we still managed to qualify so that gives me hope.

"Maybe it's not comparable, but it shows that in football anything's possible until it's mathematically finished. We still have a chance. We're a good team and we have some very good players. Sometimes we lack composure when the matches heat up, but that aside we've got enough to put in a good showing in the European Cup."