Green lions emerge with respect as international break looms
Nick Tsambouniaris analyses the Derby of the Eternal Enemies from a Panathinaikos perspective as the young lions emerge with respect for their attitude and performance.
In the space of 14 days, a young Panathinaikos side has played title contenders PAOK (away), AEK, and Olympiacos (away). The fact that the team has ridden out the rocky period and has emerged with even more respect than before speaks volumes for the job Giorgos Donis has done this season. The team was not given a chance in pre season and it continued even when the wins started flooding in.
However, this has all changed in the last three rounds in spite of only picking up 2 points out of a possible 9. In the first match at Toumba, the team was simply outclassed and experience was a telling factor. Things turned a few days later as they should have comfortably beaten AEK, if not for missing an array of gilt-edged chances. Olympiacos was always going to be the biggest test of them all due to the sheer meaning of the occasion alone.
Donis sprung his surprise an hour before kick off by opting to go with a back three. It raised eyebrows but in hindsight it was a masterstroke as an organised and determined Panathinaikos strangled the life out of their more ‘so-called’ stronger rivals. It also highlighted the tactical awareness and flexibility of Donis as a manager. He toyed with this 3-5-2 system all summer and he executed his ‘Plan B’ to great effect. Dimitris Kolovetsios was a rock and spearheaded his fellow defenders with purpose. Emanuel Insua was immense operating as a wing back covering lots of ground and playing without fear, getting stuck into every challenge. Young Giannis Bouzoukis was tidy in midfield and made the hosts work over time.
The Reds barely had a sight at the Panathinaikos goal despite being strong favourites playing at home. It did change after Ergys Kace (who had a great game in his return in the starting lineup) etched his name into Panathinaikos history courtesy of conjuring up a goal for the ages, and perhaps one of the best scored in the Derby of Eternal Enemies with his powerful right-footed volley. Against all the odds, the baby Greens found themselves ahead.
Prior to this, the inspirational Sokratis Dioudis had suffered an awful injury in goals when attempting to stop another Olympiacos attack. Reports emerged that he swallowed his tongue and suffered short-term memory loss. He was instrumental before he succumbed to injury, continuing his outstanding form this season. The fact that he profusely kicked the buggy as he was coming off highlights what it meant to the squad. However, the young Konstantinos Kotsaris was up to the task on his debut. The rookie made a world class save to deny former Green Lazaros Christodoulopoulos from a free kick bound for the top corner. He backed this up in the dying embers diving well to save a goal-bound header.
Last season it was Omri Altman who received a nasty ACL injury, this season it was Dioudis. Hopefully he is back to doing what he does best imminently. The hosts did manage to find an equaliser in the 9 minutes of added time but it was the visitors who left Faliro with all the adulation and respect.
It is now over 2 years (and 4 straight games) since the Trifylli has tasted defeat to their arch-rivals. Donis has built upon the foundations laid by Marinos Ouzounidis by keeping the culture of togetherness and unity intact, but he has added a new layer by breathing life into the attacking aspect of the game, trusting youngsters instead of over-paid and over-hyped foreigners. Finishing the match with 9 men summed up the fight in this team.
The man with the magic touch has unearthed the ingredient needed in these types of fixtures. It helps being a former player, having an understanding of the club and the “fighting soul” associated with it. This fight, hunger, passion and refusal to surrender ultimately won the day as a less-favoured and less-experienced outfit stuck it to Olympiacos, who at one point looked bereft of ideas.
Derbies are not won on paper, especially in Greece and it is great to see an underdog aim up and steal the headlines. Even more so when you are a fan of this team. Panathinaikos fans have endured a torrid time over the last few years but there is now genuine hope moving forward. It is vital this team is kept together, meaning no one can be sold in January.
Special mention has to go to captain Dimitris Kourbelis. Only 25, he has grown into a leader and pillar of strength for the Panathinaikos world. Fans have a captain to relate to and be proud of. His passion, coupled with his performance on Sunday, makes his an irreplaceable member of the squad.
There will be a strong Panathinaikos representation during the international break but those who will not be involved can get some much-needed rest. For those involved, a change of scenery temporarily will do wonders after an exhausting 14 day period. Donis and the coaching staff can regroup and reassess.
Respect to Donis and the entire squad for making us proud.
Finally, condolences to the friends and family of the Olympiacos fan who suffered a heart attack and passed away at the game. Rivalries are irrelevant in times such as these.