Athletic Club will be hoping to book their place in the Europa League group stage on Thursday when they host Panathinaikos in the second leg of their tie. The Lions currently hold a 3-2 lead after last week’s meeting in Athens, but that doesn’t mean this match will be easy at all. The Greeks also believe that they deserve a place in the next round and won’t go down without a fight. Kuko Ziganda spoke to the media following Wednesday’s training session and made it clear that there is a lot of hope and excitement, but that his team knows they haven’t earned anything yet.
“Euphoria is not there, but there is hope, expectation, and a desire to play. The result was favorable and we are happy with it. We have to keep our heads cool and play our game. We know that they will not come to just watch at the San Mamés, they are going to attack. On paper our League is stronger than theirs, but know the quality of Panathinaikos and we respect them. They demonstrated at their stadium what they can do and our respect for them is maximum. In those first 60 minutes in Greece they were the superior side.”
The Lions will be without Oscar De Marcos for a few weeks following an ankle injury and Ziganda says that he already knows who will start on Thursday. He also took the time to praise Iker Muniain and Aritz Aduriz, who will return to the starting lineup after coming off the bench against Getafe on Sunday.
“Yes I know who will start for De Marcos, but we won’t make that public until tomorrow. We know that it is very difficult to repeat the same team every game, especially when a match demands so much out of you. The ones who do start again are aware of the intensity that it takes to win. Muniain’s performances? From the first day of training he has played with confidence, energy, and vigor. He is enjoying his football and we know the player that he is. He can play on the wing or come inside. He is a daring player with the ball and gives us something different. Aduriz will return to the lineup and he always wants to play. We value him and we want to keep him fresh. He always plays well, especially at the San Mamés. We hope to play a great game and make our opponents uncomfortable.”
Athletic Club is hoping for a deep run in the Europa League this season and the team knows that to do that they must first finish off Panathinaikos on Thursday. The Lions have been nearly unbeatable at the San Mamés, which will go in their favor. Still, this is the Europa League and that means that anything can happen. After a thrilling and dramatic first leg, this second meeting promises to be just as entertaining.