“Let’s show the Greeks who the Romans are” was Claudio Ranieri’s war cry before flying out to Athens for Roma’s Europa League clash with Panathinaikos tonight. The Roman was rekindling an ancient rivalry that looks set to continue this evening in the Olympic Stadium as these modern day warriors take to the field in the quest for European success.
This is the first time that Ranieri has brought a side over to Greece and he will have to do without il capitano Francesco Totti for his maiden appearance after the Roman captain came down with a bout of flu. Therefore, the main attacking threat will have to come from the Montenegrin front man, Mirko Vucinic, the only Giallorossi player bar Totti to be in double figures in Europe with an impressive 10 goals. He is likely to be partnered by the Brazilian juggernaut, Julio Baptista who will have a chance to impress his manager before the imminent return of the Italian bomber, Luca Toni who has his mind set on making Marcello Lippi’s World Cup squad. Other players looking to cement their place in the Azzurri squad include Simone Perrotta and Matteo Brighi who are battling it out for the same midfield position in Greece tonight.
Roma will look to continue their impressive run of nine consecutive wins in Europe matched by their 20 games without a loss back home in Serie A. Meanwhile their Greek counterparts were on a similar rich reign of form until their home defeat at the weekend to lowly Kavala. The harmony that came with the 12 game unbeaten run evaporated and tempers flared between team mates Giorgos Karagounis and Sebastian Leto. Nikos Pateras, the President of Panathinaikos decided to go down to the training ground this week to find out what went wrong before this crucial game against il lupi.
The Tinkerman has highlighted the ex-Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse as the main threat to his back line that will see Philippe Mexes come in for Juan and Marco Casetti for Marco Motta. “Cisse is a very dangerous player, a complete player that Roma must be fearful of and for this reason we have looked at ways to stop him playing his game”. He has scored 17 goals this season, four of which have come in Europe and his electric pace will pose problems for the Roman defence.
The Giallorossi faithful may be dreaming of catching running away leaders Inter, back home, but if their players’ focus is not there tonight they could be found wanting, denting any chances of European success. Not only that, this loss of momentum could weaken the faint possibility of catching the Nerazzurri in the title race as teams usually react negatively after losing unbeaten runs. As Ranieri looks to the past for inspiration, the future success of their season could be history unless they maintain their current form of consistency on all fronts.