Panathinaikos vs Barcelona Preview
Barcelona will take on Panathinaikos looking to secure their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.Barcelona must first put all thoughts of next week`s mouthwatering Primera Division showdown with Real Madrid to the back of their minds.
Barca host arch rivals Madrid at the Nou Camp next Monday and will be looking to replace Jose Mourinho`s side at the top of the standings, with one point currently separating the two Spanish giants.
However, before then Barca have the chance to not only progress through to the knockout stages of the Champions League but also guarantee top spot if they can beat Panathinaikos in Athens and the other Group D match goes their way.
With two matches remaining, Pep Guardiola`s side are a point clear of FC Copenhagen at the top of the table, with Rubin Kazan five points behind and Pana six adrift.
Barca sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta acknowledges there is great interest in the clash with Madrid, but is confident Guardiola`s men will be focused solely on their European challenge.
"It`s true that since we started the season it seems everyone has been waiting for this game (against Madrid), but the clasico would mean nothing without all the other matches," he said.
"The Champions League is a vital part of the season for us, and so this game is very important for qualification, for first place and everything that happens later in this competition."
He added: "I`ve never seen this team hold anything back. They like competing. They are very good at focusing on the important aims. The game with Almeria was a good example of that, if you don't get caught napping in the league then it's difficult for that to happen in the Champions League."
Barca warmed up for the trip to Greece by thrashing Almeria 8-0 on Saturday - equalling the club`s biggest-ever away win in La Liga.
Lionel Messi struck a hat-trick in that match, which was his sixth treble of 2010 for Barca and took his tally to 15 goals in his last 10 appearances for the club.
Panathinaikos also enjoyed a victory at the weekend, beating Iraklis 4-2 to move joint top of the Greek standings with Olympiacos.
Jacek Gmoch was in charge for that match following the departure of coach Nikos Nioplias, but Jesualdo Ferreira was named as Pana`s new coach on the same day.
Ferreira was recently sacked as coach of Barca`s Primera Division rivals Malaga just a few months into a three-year contract.
Pana are not in such good shape in the Champions League having recorded just two points and one goal from their opening four games, but nevertheless Zubizarreta is anticipating a testing time for Barca at the Spiros Louis Stadium - where Pana have lost only three of their last 58 league games.
"Whenever we go to Greece we expect highly competitive teams, and a lot of noise and pressure from the stands. I don't know what we`ll find, but that`s what we're expecting. We have the utmost respect for an important ground and a great, historic team, with good, experienced players."