THERE may have been folk in Athens rubbing their eyes and having a second look at the small print in their newspaper sports pages yesterday. If any of their papers bothered to carry results of the weekend friendlies played across Europe, that is.
It may have been startling for any Panathinaikos staff or supporters to learn that Motherwell – about whom they almost certainly know zilch – could have enough about them to live with Everton, a name they have heard of from a league everyone takes very seriously.
Athenians can be forgiven for thinking that dealing with Motherwell in the Champions League third qualifying round will be as straightforward as shelling peas, and the fact Stuart McCall's side held Everton in Stevie Hammell's testimonial at Fir Park on Saturday won't materially change that.
Yet Motherwell were badly in need of a lift after being thumped 4-0 by Ayr United and, even allowing for all the significant admissions – this was a friendly, Everton were clearly rusty and out of condition, David Moyes was unconcerned about the scoreline – there was plenty for Motherwell to take from the match. Their play was bright and they created umpteen chances against near full-strength opponents. Panathinaikos, remember, will be comparatively out of shape too, with the Greek Super League not kicking off until August 25.
Champions League football has created an unmistakeable excitement around Fir Park but McCall, the manager, must concern himself with humdrum issues about fitness and signings.
He is short of defenders and neither Jonathan Page nor Steven Saunders will be ready for the European first leg a week tomorrow. Shaun Hutchinson is doubtful too. Adam Cummins, 19, and Simon Ramsden, the 30-year-old trialist, did okay as a central defensive partnership against Everton and if a deal can be struck with the latter, the pair may have to be relied upon in the home tie against the Greeks.
McCall's players are not in the mood to talk down their prospects. Nicky Law, having smashed in a splendid second-half goal to cancel out Shane Duffy's headed opener for Everton, was hopeful that ignorance of what lies in store for them at Fir Park could be to Panathinaikos's detriment.
"I'm pretty certain they will know nothing about us and maybe we'll catch them on an off night, or they might take it easy," he said. "You never know how they'll approach it but it's a massive game for them too. The Champions League is big for them as well.
"We know it will be really tough but playing against great Everton players can give us that little bit of confidence. We are not afraid of playing Panathinaikos. It is something we are really looking forward to, particularly the game here. Hopefully we can get a full house and then you never know."
Motherwell needed a solid display to restore order to an untidy pre-season, notably that hosing by Ayr, and handling Everton allowed them to feel much better about themselves. It was a shame that only 4500 turned out on a pleasant afternoon to honour Hammell, although those who made the effort were rewarded with a lively match.
The regulars purred over the sight of James McFadden pulling on the colours again for the final 28 minutes – if only the club could afford a contract offer to keep him around for a while – and there was some pantomime booing of Steven Naismith when he came on a few minutes later to make his Everton debut. Another former Rangers player, Nikica Jelavic, had come off the bench at half-time.
His manager, Moyes, correctly pointed out that Motherwell had put more into the game than his own men. More importantly, they also took far more from the result.