Hearts' Tasos Avlonitis relies on derby experience ahead of Hibs tie

Tasos Avlonitis
Avlonitis played his first 90 minutes of the season in Saturday's win at Motherwell

Hearts defender Tasos Avlonitis believes his Athens derby experience will prepare him for Sunday's Scottish Cup tie against Hibernian.

The Greek centre-back scored the winning goal in his first appearance for Olympiakos against Panathinaikos.

"I know very well how it is in a derby," the 27-year-old said.

"In Greece also, the fans are crazy. The Olympiakos stadium is 35,000, so maybe half an hour before it is full. They never stop singing, it's amazing."

There will be around half that number at a sold-out Tynecastle.

"We know that in Greece it's like war, the atmosphere isn't nice," added Avlonitis.

"When you come on the pitch you have to be ready to play this game. The local derbies are always like this, so we play in our stadium and our fans will be on our side. We can win, for us and for them also."

Avlonitis has made two appearances for Hearts since joining as a free agent last month, his first games since May, as he recovered from an abdominal injury.

He was aware of Hearts' standing because compatriots Takis Fysas and Christos Karipidis both played for the club, while Greek friends in Edinburgh have been quick to emphasise the importance of the fifth round tie, with Hibs travelling across the city as the Scottish Cup holders.

Tasos Avlonitis
Avlonitis scored two goals for Olympiakos, both against Panathinaikos

"I learn about this, yes," said Avlonitis. "It is an extra motivation, we know that it's not so easy. It's a big game, but we want so much to win this game, for the fans and for ourselves.

"It is a motivation, but the most important thing is the win. We don't say at this moment, because we are new we need to be a hero. If we win, everybody will be happy, this is all that matters.

"The football players must be focused on the game. Only on the pitch counts. The fans can support us, and that is very important, but only for the psychology. If we do what the coach has been telling us to do, we can win."

Avlonitis was at Olympiakos when they won the league and cup double in 2014-15, although he was not part of the match-day squad for the cup final win over Xanthi.

He still has vivid recollections of the build-up to an Athens derby and how it gripped the city.

"[I can remember] a fight between the subs, a fight between the fans," he said.

"I don't forget, the day of the match when I scored, the morning we say to our new players that this game is so important. The fans get crazy in the streets and we saw some pictures in the morning about this and I said to [French international team-mate] Eric Abidal, 'look, they are crazy'.

"The local derbies are like this. You have to win, for the fans, but you have to stay calm and do what we know to do on the pitch."

Top Stories