Earlier today Athletic Club landed in Athens, Greece ahead of their Europa League clash with Panathinaikos. The Lions earned their place int he knock-out round by seeing off Dinamo Bucuresti, but have been drawn with yet another difficult opponent. The most important thing will be getting a good result to take back to the San Mamés, but the Basques want even more. After Wednesday’s final training session leading up to the game, Kuko Ziganda spoke with the media and said that the Greeks will want to control possession.
“It is difficult to gauge a team, their rhythms and tendencies, from preseason matches. We have an idea of their system and players. Panathinaikos likes to be the one in control of games. In their country and league they normally control possession. This is going to be a battle, without question. Zeca has good personality and influence on games. He can cause problems. They also have powerful midfielders like Altman. They are a team that is strong at home, and almost always win in front of their own fans. They are accustomed to playing in Europe and competing outside of Greece. They are also expecting to advance to the next round.”
Ziganda went on to say that he knows the game will be a battle between very strong teams. He also revealed that Iago Herrerin and Iñaki Williams will start, and that the Lions are optimistic about their chances. They know the importance of scoring an away goal, but they want to win outright.
“It’s going to be a battle, a nice sporting fight. We come with the same idea and mentality as we did in Bucharest. We want to dominate possession and attack. Herrerin will start in goal. Iñaki will also start, but I do not know if he will play the full 90 minutes. Our goal is always to impose ourselves, our style, and neutralize our opponent’s strengths. We have already crossed one bridge [Dinamo] and now we are trying to cross another one. We are optimistic and positive. We are optimistic and we think positive. Their fans are great at home, but I think our players are prepared for this environment. It is important to score, especially away from home. We come with the intention to win, so that means we come with the intention of scoring goals.”
The return leg will take place at the San Mamés next Thursday and will be vital to Athletic’s season. The Lions have big dreams for this year’s tournament and advancing past Panathinaikos will book their place in the group stage. Playing on the road against the Greeks is very difficult, but Ziganda and the players have been very vocal about the fact that they are used to games like this now. The manager is right, it will be a battle, and the Basques are hoping to walk away victorious.