Athletic Club will kickoff their knock-out round of the Europa League in less than 24 hours when they take on Panathinaikos. The Lions have already arrived in Athens, Greece and are ready for what will be a very difficult opponent. Following Wednesday’s final training session, Iker Muniain spoke to the media and admitted that the Greeks are strong opponents and that their fans will try to make it a difficult atmosphere.
“They are a very strong team in their league. They try to play the game well and we know several of their players. Zeca, in midfield, is a great player and likes to have the ball. Altman is good too. They can create a lot of danger if we are not plugged in and focused. Their fans play a big role and they will try to take advantage of that. We have to disregard that and we are accustomed to playing games at this level.”
The 24-year-old went on to say that Athletic are playing great football at the moment and have had time to work on other aspects of the game at the of the preseason. He believes that the team learned a lot from being eliminated last season and are know focused on bringing a good result back to the San Mamés.
“We have arrived well prepared, even better than the previous round. We were able to spend more time working on other aspects of the game and our system. Obviously when you are eliminated in previous years you are more alert and learn a lot. We don’t want to discuss who is the favorite, that will be determined on the field. I think our team is playing very well and hopefully we can bring a good result back to Bilbao.”
In closing, Muniain stated that Ziganda and former manager Ernesto Valverde are very different personalities, but their vision of football is quite similar. The Lezama product also revealed that he is comfortable playing on the wing or centrally and that all he wants to do is help the team be successful.
“The transition from coach to another has not been difficult because Ziganda knows the structure of Athletic and the players well. Personality and character are different, but with similar ideas on the pitch. Kuko does bring his nuances. Suffering elimination would be difficult for everyone because we have a lot of expectations in this competition this season. Playing centrally or on the wing? I deal with it naturally. I’m used to playing on the wing, but with the freedom to come into the center. I’m comfortable either place and I just want to help the team.”
Panathinaikos are well known for their strength at home and their fans can make the stadium very intimidating. Additionally, it is supposed to be extremely hot and humid in Athens on Thursday so the Lions will have to pay close attention to their hydration. It definitely won’t be an easy match at all and the most important thing is bringing back a good result to Bilbao in the return leg. Athletic Club is hoping to do something very special in the Europa League this season and that means they will have to conquer Greece.