After defeated Dinamo Bucuresti 4-1 on aggregate, Athletic Club is on to the knock-out round of the Europa League. The drawing took place Friday and the Lions were officially matched up against Panathinaikos of the Greek league. Following the draw, manager Kuko Ziganda took some time to address the media and was quick to point out that Panathinaikos will not be an easy opponent, but that the Basques are confident in themselves.
“In the previous round we have already demonstrated that we can adapt to different circumstances. We earned our place here and now we have another opponent. Panathinaikos is one of the strongest teams in the Greek league and a regular face in European competitions. They are a club that is accustomed to the Europa League and with a lot of football tradition behind them. We face this test with the same optimism as the previous round.”
Ziganda went on to say that Panathinaikos is very strong at home, just like Athletic Club. The Lions will need the support of their fans in the return leg and Kuko believes that the game at the San Mamés will be the deciding factor.
“It will be a very even match, very competitive. We are alike, yes, in terms of preparation. You have to have all the respect in the world for them. We know that they are a very strong team at home, which makes the tie even tougher. We respect them like everyone else, but will continue to trust in our strengths and style of play. In the previous round we adapted well to play in the return at San Mamés. There are things you can’t control, but you have to take the directive to improve and adjust. Our fans gave us a lot of encouragement on the field and we have to have a great atmosphere again so that we can decide the tie here at home.”
If Athletic Club is able to advance past Panathinaikos they will then enter the group stage of the Europa League. The Basque giants are hoping for yet another deep run in the tournament and know that they must defeat the Greeks to do so. Luckily, the squad is very healthy and already playing at a high level. Ziganda should have everyone available, minus Yeray, which gives the Lions strength going into another very difficult two-legged affair.