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On The Road

Destination Greece: here's everything you need to know about PAOK

As Shamrock Rovers prepare for round three of the Europa League group stages, we take a look at tonight’s opposition. It’s a pretty interesting story.

SHAMROCK ROVERS AND their travelling support have hardly had time to unpack their bags since the trip to White Hart Lane, but they’re back on the road again this evening for some more Europa League action.

Tonight, Greek side PAOK are the opposition, but Michael O’Neill will surely have one-and-a-half eyes on Monday evening’s visit to Belfield where the Hoops can wrap up back-to-back league titles with three points against UCD.

Before that though, there is a game to be played. Here’s the lowdown on the Greeks.

PAOK. What does that stand for?

The English translation is “Pan-Thessalonian Athletic Club of Constantinopolitans.” I’m not even going to bother with the Greek, I’m sure you understand.

I thought Constantinople was modern-day Istanbul. In Turkey. What gives?

Ok, time for a quick history lesson. It’s actually quite interesting.

PAOK were originally founded by Constantinople’s Greek communuity in 1875, during the time of the Ottoman Empire. But when the empire disintegrated at the end of World War I, Constantinople fell under Turkish control and the Greek communities were forced to move to the Greek mainland as a part of a population exchange. Many of those involved with PAOK settled in the northern city of Thessaloniki and the new club was born.

I see. Is the club crest related to that?

Yes, it is. The crest is a double-headed eagle which represents the heritage of the original refugees as well as the club’s modern roots in Thessaloniki. The eagle’s wings are folded, which apparently symbolises mourning for the homeland.

Ok, but are they any good?

Traditionally, PAOK have been seen as the baby brother in the Greek Superleague’s equivalent of the “Big Four”. They’ve only won the league twice, a haul which is made to look paltry by the giants of Olympiakos (38 titles) and Panathinaikos (20), and they haven’t been Greek champions since 1985.

They finished the 2010/2011 season in fourth place, a whopping 25 points behind champions Olympiakos (again), but that was still good enough for a place in the Europa League qualifiers.

How about this season? What has their recent form been like?

The Superleague kicked off again in early September, so PAOK already have six games under their belt. After winning three of their opening five games, they drew 0-0 at home to new boys OFI Crete last Sunday and are currently in a five-way tie at the top of the table.

What about their European form?

The optimists among PAOK’s fans will tell you that they’re still unbeaten; the glass-half-empty types will point to the fact that they’ve yet to win a game in the group stages. Both are correct.

After making their way past Valerenga and Karpaty Lviv (remember them, Pat’s fans?) in the Europa League qualifiers, PAOK welcomed Harry Redknapp and Tottenham Hotspur to the Toumba Stadium on matchday one. They were desperately unlucky not to come away with all three points after Brazilian left-full Lino missed a penalty and then Vladimir Ivić headed against the bar in stoppage time.

Last time out, they made the long trip to the Russian Republic of Tartastan to play Rubin Kazan and battled bravely to draw 2-2, Georgios Fotakis bagging the equaliser nine minutes from time.

Do they have any players I might know?

Not really, although they do have a host of Greek internationals in their first team. Fotakis, Steafons Athanasiadis, Giorgos Georgiadis, Kostas Chalkias, and Dimitrios Salpigidis have all been capped at senior level for the national side.

Ok so, who’s the one to watch?

Probably Salpigidis, who you may remember scoring against Nigeria in the World Cup last year (me neither).

The veteran striker came up through the PAOK ranks and made over 100 senior appearances before the top brass decided to cash in by selling him to Panathinaikos in 2006. So he toddled off a couple of seasons and won a few medals, but he’s back now and showing that he never lost his eye for goal. He’s yet to score in Europe this season, but he has got two in the league and can be a handful.

Watch out for the probing midfield runs of Vierinha and Sotiris Balafas as well.

Who’s the gaffer?

Former Romanian international Laszlo Boloni is the current boss. He’s had gigs all over mainland Europe since he went into management back in 1994, but was sacked after just six months with Racing Club Lens after he failed to save them from relegation to Ligue 2 last season.

Boloni was also manager of Sporting Lisbon from 2001 and 2003 where he was praised for bringing a number of youth players through to the first team. Nobody special really, just some guy called Cristiano Ronaldo.

Have Rovers any chance tonight?

Probably not, but the travelling support would be more than happy with a repeat of the heroics from White Hart Lane three weeks ago. The Hoops are 11/1 to win and 9/2 to grab a point.

Join Paul from 8pm for minute-by-minute coverage of PAOK v Shamrock Rovers and the rest of tonight’s Europa League action >

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