Panathinaikos AO – 2027/28 Open Thread
RNGeebus has forsaken us, with this draw. Probably the toughest draws from Group 3 and 4. Just…ouch.
There has been no shortage of pundits ready to call us a “one-and-done” wonder, after our European campaign last season. The job tonight in Germany on Matchday 1 of the Group Stage, was to prove them wrong. To put an end to that nonsense, once and for all.
Zlatan, to get into the spirit, insisted on going commando in his white velour tracksuit. The heavy rain didn’t help. Or, perhaps it did. It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. No judgment.
Fortunately, no one will be talking about the images of Zlatan strutting the sideline during the match, not after this result. They’ll be far more focused on his knee-slide down the touchline, ending with the tracksuit jacket thrown to the faithful traveling Panathinaikos supporters.
We’re back, lads.
This time of year in Athens always makes me think of Selene.
I was out with someone new last week, and I could have sworn I saw her watching us from a 2nd story window. A woman in a white dress. It looked just like her, but when I looked back, the woman was gone.
I tried to talk to Jesse about it and, of course, he brought Zlatan and Bozidar into the mix. Neither one of them was much help. Zlatan just talked about his infatuation with Alex Morgan. Bozidar did not have anything of value to offer, either.
Jesse had the best advice, he always does. “She left, brother. She’s gone. Get over it. Move on. It’s her loss.”
Zlatan just nods.
I don’t really want to know what Bozidar is thinking, but somewhere around the 6th shot of Serbian Rum, I gave in and asked him. He was uncharacteristically reluctant, but I pressed him.
“Boss, is no this simple,” he explained. “When my sister got pregnant in the university, 2nd year, I tell her to consider abort-bortion, because she has much life to live. Now, my little niece is 8 years old. Her name is Mia. She is very much with us, no the aborting. She call me Uncle Daddy Abo-Bo. So I do not be thinking that the Bozidar should be giving the you, advice on love and other serious things. Talk to the me about Mario Kart, yes?! No more Wario for you tonight. Is bad.”
I’m just going to forget I heard any of that, and stick with Jesse’s advice.
Get over her. That couldn’t have been Selene in the window. She would have said something.
As tough as our Group Stage draw was, the lads have done the Panathinaikos faithful proud. 4 wins and 1 draw in the first 5 matches (including the win away to Dortmund noted above), and we’ve won the Group. We’d be perfect on the season if the 2nd XI hadn’t been FM’d by Apollon, of all teams.
There’s no question that this team is capable of making a Champions League run. We just need a little luck.
The Christmas break is short this year, with the Euros on the horizon.
Zlatan, Jesse and Bozidar are celebrating Christmas day with an all-day FIFA 2028 tournament on the massive TV screens inside the Spyros Louis. But after a few hours I decide to go for a walk. I need a break, and for once the streets of Athens are quiet.
I know I am supposed to get “over” Selene, but I’m finding that harder than I should. I haven’t seen her in nearly 2 years now, not since she disappeared in the middle of the night, a cryptic note her only goodbye.
I wander aimlessly. Lost in my thoughts. The new Coldplay album stuck in my head…it’s beyond horrible, but the banal lyrics and predictable chord progressions are stuck in my head like an aggressive viral infection. The only reason I bought the album in the first place (as a gift to myself from “Santa”), is because I know that somewhere, somehow, Selene is listening to it. It’s like that movie…no, not American Psycho… American Tale, that’s it. I always get those two confused.
I’m lost in my head, wandering the paths which wind around Filopappou Hill when, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of…that couldn’t be…is it her? I race around a corner… And no one is there. I’m seeing things again, it seems. A flash of white. If someone was here, they’re gone. Shaken from my reverie I set myself for the long walk home when I see them…sitting on a rock outcropping.
Two statues. One looks…yes, one appears to be a small version of the strange statue being excavated on the outskirts of Athens, they sell these “replicas” all across the city. But…these somehow look older than the other replicas I’ve seen. More ‘worn.’
The bearded face of the first statue is instantly recognizable. I pick it up, and the stone feels heavy – much heavier than a cheap replica. And warm. Much warmer than the ambient temperature… Odd, that.
The other… I’d assumed it was simply another replica of the bearded man statute…but as I pick it up, I realize I was wrong. The heavy stone lacks the warmth of its male twin, and the face and form are unmistakably female, and a familiar face at that. I haven’t seen anything in the news about a female statue being discovered, to match the bearded man…
It must be some kind of mistake. A cruel prank. Or, perhaps, a coincidence. Because the female statue wears Selene’s face.
We finish 2027 on a high. Top of the SuperLeague, 12 points clear of Olympiacos.
And we’ve got a date with Marcelo Gallardo’s Chelsea in the Champions League. Not an easy draw, but they’re sitting 6th in the Premier League right now, so I fancy our chances.
Let’s do this.
The first regen to win the Ballon d’Or. He’s impressive, to say the absolute least.
I would do unspeakable things to have him as my right wingback, or retrained as a left-sided inverted winger.
Marcelo Gallardo’s Chelsea…a club desperate to avenge their loss in the 2025 Europa Conference League Final.
We set out to **** in their cornflakes. Again.
And we do. In glorious fashion. Thanos celebrates his goal (our third) with his newly-devised “snap” celebration, sure to incur the wrath of Marvel’s army of attorneys. Intellectual property rights be damned. We’re soaring. While Olmo manages to pull one back, Thanos immediately restores our three-goal advantage.
A statement of intent. We’re not content to be anyone’s favorite underdog. We want it all.
The goal in the 2nd leg was to not give Chelsea a sniff. Shut the door. Firmly.
And in the 7th minute, Baran did the business, seizing on a loose ball to fire home from 12 yards out. Whil Zlatan and Jesse celebrated on the sidelines, I urged the lads to maintain their focus. So much good work, we cannot let it be undone with a slip in our concentration.
But even I had to give in to the emotions when Lleshi fired home the 2nd in the 29th minute, finishing off a textbook counterattack. 6-1 on aggregate. Not even the most ardent Blue could see a viable path back into the tie.
When Mejri fired home in the 55th from close range, seizing on an error from Kepa, Gallardo collapsed in the technical area like a puppet with his strings cut. Zlatan went over to offer him a hand…only to pull it away at the last moment, laughing like a 12 year-old on the playground. He earned a yellow card for it, but even I have to admit it was worth it, just to see the horrified look on Gallardo’s face. He seemed to know, in that moment, that the end of his tenure at Chelsea was near, as our supporters chanted at him.
Christian “SoccerBall Jeebus” Pulisic was in tears after the final whistle. The image of Zlatan standing over him, laughing maniacally while handing him a baseball glove, will forever be seared in my memory.
But we cannot get ahead of ourselves. As big as tonight was, our focus in Europe must remain complete. We’re 18 points clear in the SuperLeague with a game in hand, so the youngsters and 2nd XI will have ample opportunity to prove themselves on the domestic front…although they must improve, the loss to Olympiacos in the Cup was unacceptable, by any measure.
We draw Frank Lampard’s Napoli, who sit 4th in Serie A.
If we advance, we’ll face Paulo Fonseca’s Liverpool (1st in the Premier League) or Ernesto Valverde’s Manchester City (6th).
Suffice to say we did not bring our shooting boots for the 1st leg…but we got the job done.
Zlatan shouldn’t have said that to Lampard after the final whistle, though, and will be suspended for the 2nd leg in Naples. Napoli will have to chase the tie, which is exactly where we want them.
The first half in Naples was a dull affair, which suits us perfectly. Goals from Masek and Mejri see us through with ease.
All of a sudden, we’re the juggernaut. In form and ready for anything.
Zlatan held a match-watching party in Syntagma Square, attended by tens of thousands. After the final whistle, it turned into a spontaneous all-night rave, Zlatan spinning the latest hits until law enforcement shut it down the following day.
We’ll face Valverde’s City, who advanced thanks to a 4-1 annihilation of favorites Liverpool in the first leg.
It was almost the perfect night in Manchester, until City scored with what turned out to be the last kick of the game.
Frustrations aside, we have them right where we want them. They will have to chase the game in Athens.
We’re 90 minutes from the promised land, lads.
To say that this was a nervy evening in Athens would be an understatement…a dream start, followed by a near-epic collapse late in regulation, followed by an emphatic, triumphant extra time.
We’ve done it. We’re through to the Final.
We will face Raul Valbuena’s Sevilla. A chance at history, against a club known for making it count in European cup competitions.
To be continued…
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