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The clock is ticking on the Panathinaikos career of midfield wizard Giorgios Karagounis.

It is safe to assume the 24-year-old international will soon become the latest high-profile Greek export. After all, it was a major shock when an expected transfer to Italy failed to materialise last summer. Serie A clubs Udinese and Bologna were both vying for his services, but ultimately negotiations reached a mysterious dead end.

Some claimed Karagounis pulled the plug because he felt Panathinaikos were pressurising him to sign for Udinese – who were prepared topay œ3.5million – while he preferred to go to Bologna, whose bid was lower but who were offering him better terms.

Whatever the reasons, prospective buyers will be much more persistent in the coming months. Karagounis has been top of the bill for Panathinaikos in the Champions League, while his reputation was greatly enhanced by his performance in Greece’s 2-2 World Cup qualifying draw with England last October. “Giorgios was a big problem for England all afternoon,” said Greece coach Otto Rehhagel. “Hewas very busy, excellent in his passing and movement off the ball, and the ideal springboard for our counter-attacks.”

Karagounis, captain of the Greek Under-21 side that finished runners-up in the 1998 European Championship, obviously relishes a big game. Both this term and last, he has saved some of his best performances for the Champions League, occupying centre-stage as Panathinaikos twice defied the odds to qualify for the second phase.

Juventus and Manchester United will need no reminding of how he rose to the occasion against them in 2000-01, and he has again excelled in Europe this season. He proved the match winner when heading the only goal against Arsenal in Athens in September.

His recent domestic League formhas not been of the same high standard, though, and he has not always enjoyed the best of fortunes at Panathinaikos. After arriving from Apollon in summer 1998, Karagounis initially could get no further than the bench. But injury to German schemer Karl-Heinz Pflipsen during the 1999-00 season gave him his chance. Such was his exceptional form that critics were soon comparing him to Mimis Domazos, the former Panathinaikos midfield general who skippered the club to the 1971 Champions Cup Final – a 2-0 defeat by Ajax.

Karagounis deserves to be found in such exalted company.

FACT FILE
ClubPanathinaikos
Country Greece
Born March 6, 1977, in Athens
Previous club Apollon
International debut August 1999, v El Salvador
International debut 14 (1 goal)

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