James Pickwick

What: UEFA Champions League
Who: Barcelona vs Panathinaikos (Group D)
When: Tuesday 14th September, 2010, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain

Wiping the Shame Away

To lose in the Camp Nou has almost become unthinkable in recent seasons; sides reluctantly turn up in the giant bowl and await the inevitable footballing lesson. However, this weekend, it didn’t happen. Newly promoted Hercules were tied to the railway track; train driver Josep Guardiola sat in the drivers cabin; the Camp Nou crowd sounded the whistle; but Barcelona’s players did not shovel the coal and subsequently Hercules were not run over.

Little Hercules delivery of a 2-0 knockout punch has given hope not just to every minnow in La Liga, but also to Champions League visitors Panathinaikos. Barcelona though, no doubt, are intent on normal service being resumed. Guardiola had a warning for those who dare to dream of a Green win: "Never doubt these players" warned the Catalan coach. "They could have the worst season in history, but it is impossible to doubt these players." With those words Panathinaikos have been given notice; Barcelona are angry and ready to wipe the shame of Hercules away.

Greece’s Future is Green

The days of Olympiacos dominating Greek football are over. Panathinaikos are the new (old) force and backed by cold, hard, green cash. To this end a French flavour prevails in Athens, with Jean-Alain Boumsong charged with adding steel to a defence which too often crumbled in Europe; in midfield Damien Pleiss, the former Liverpool youngster, landed in Greece; while up front Sidney Govou brings years of Champions League experience from Lyon and Djibril Cisse continues the rampage begun last summer.

Panathinaikos have a joker in the pack in the shape of former Liverpool Champions League winner Luis Garcia. The little Spaniard, capable of moments of brillance, will need no encouragement to perform in the Camp Nou. Indeed, Garcia is Catalan and began his career in Barcelona’s famed youth academy. Greens’ coach Nikos Nioplias knows that a wounded Barcelona are dangerous: "They are very strong and after losing a game they are even stronger." However, "surprises can always happen" said the 45-year-old, holding down his first club job after spells with the Greek Under-19 and 21 sides.


Recent form

Barcelona 1-1 AC Milan (25/08; Friendly)
Racing Santader 0-3 Barcelona (29/08; La Liga)
Barcelona 0-2 Hercules (11/09; La Liga)

Panathinaikos 2-0 Genoa (22/08; Friendly)
Panathinaikos 1-1 Xanthi (27/08; Super League)
Aris 0-1 Panathinaikos (11/09; Super League)

Key absences

Barcelona: Jeffren

Panathinaikos: Giourkas Seitaridis; Antonis Petropoulos; Nikos Spyropoulos

Players to watch

Barcelona – David Villa: The former Valencia striker is loving life at Barcelona and at the age of 28 is determined to spend as many trophy-filled years at the Camp Nou as possible. Villa is simply lethal in front of goal and is now playing for a team with very real aspirations of winning the Champions League. If Panathinaikos give Villa even a sniff of goal, it’s likely the net will bulge.

Panathinaikos – Sidney Govou: Snapping up the French forward this summer was a real coup for Panathinaikos. Govou has years of Champions League experience with Lyon behind him and is already looking the part in Athens. At 31 years old, Govou is arguably at the top of his game and should the Greens hope to get anything against Barcelona then Govou will certainly have to be on form.

Match prediction

In truth Panathinaikos would not have, strange as it seems, wished for Barcelona to be coming into this game fresh off the back of a shocking Camp Nou defeat. The Catalans are expected to unleash the forces of hell upon the Greens. Solid, like Spartans, it is unlikely Panathinaikos can weather the Blaugrana storm. A valiant, but futile, sacrifice along the lines of the 300 is expected. 3-0 to Barcelona.