A point would be enough for Panathinaikos FC to reach the knockout phase of the UEFA Europa League, but new coach Nikos Nioplias is demanding all three against FC Dinamo 1948 Bucureşti.
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Although a point would be enough for Panathinaikos FC to reach the knockout phase of the UEFA Europa League, new coach Nikos Nioplias is demanding all three against FC Dinamo 1948 Bucureşti as the Greens look to complete their Group F campaign with victory.
Play to win
Nioplias, a former Panathinaikos player, replaced Henk ten Cate as coach last week and masterminded a victory in his first game in charge at Iraklis FC on Saturday. As he prepares for his first home match at the helm, winning is the only thing on his mind. "We can't play for a draw because that can always backfire," he said. "We have no choice but to go into the match thinking about how we can win it. This team has a lot of positives and we must believe in ourselves."
Capped 44 times by his country, Nioplias has been at the top of Greek football for nearly three decades, his list of achievements belying the fact that he is only 45. Nioplias played for Panathinaikos between 1993 and 1996, winning two league titles and two Greek Cups as well as reaching the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in his last season. The playmaker was in the squad when Greece last reached the FIFA World Cup finals in 1994.
A leader on the pitch, it was no surprise when Nioplias moved into coaching when his 23-year playing career ended and in spring 2005 he was appointed Greece Under-19 coach. He led them to that year's UEFA European U19 Championship and in 2007 they qualified again and reached the final. Promoted to coach the U21 squad, Nioplias's side ended 2009 on top of a qualifying group containing England and Portugal, prior to his first club appointment.
There is no secret to Nioplias's success – his work ethic and thirst for footballing excellence was obvious as a player and he was known for the hours he spent watching games from all over the world and studying tactics. His astute scouting paid dividends as a national youth coach when he brought through the likes of Kostas Mitroglou, Giannis Papadopoulos, Vassilis Pliatsikas, Socratis Papastathopoulos and, from Panathinaikos, Sotiris Ninis, Antonis Petropoulos and Lazaros Hristodoulopoulos.
"To take over Panathinaikos felt like winning the Christmas lottery," Nioplias said. "I don't believe in taking small steps. I was lucky to start my coaching career with Greece's youth sides as I had the luxury of studying football, attending seminars, listening to world-class coaches and exchanging ideas about the game. When the challenge came and Panathinaikos asked me to take over, I couldn't say no. I'm not afraid of failing and, to be honest, why should I fail? Because I am young? Football is a game. You have to be passionate, focused and respectful of opponents and of the people who pay to watch the matches."
Home fans will be hoping to see just those attributes against Dinamo on Wednesday and Nioplias is confident Panathinaikos are strong enough to deliver. "Dinamo have done well in their away matches but they did concede five goals against Galatasaray," he said. "They play an Italian style of game and are a tight team, but I think we have the upper hand."