Leicester City's latest UEFA Europa League fixture will be more special than most for Antonios Xylogiannopoulos. The competition's group stage draw saw the Foxes pitted against his closest team geographically, AEK Athens.
While being happy about welcoming Leicester to his homeland, he also knew he would be unable to show his support inside the stadium and fully appreciate the occasion, when the Foxes travel to Athens Olympic Stadium for the very first time later this week.
"It is a really strange feeling for me, I don't know how to express it," Xylogiannopoulos said.
"I have mixed feelings, I am full of joy about that pairing, about Leicester coming to Greece, to Athens, my hometown, but at the same time, sadness about the fact that I won't be able to interact with the team or support the team, to show my passion and my appreciation for the Club.
Antonis says LCFC Hellas are passionate about their love for the Club.
"Everyone from the fan club was willing to go to the airport to get to the games, maybe even show some support in the hotel.
"But after we spoke with the Club, this is not allowed, of course, due to the pandemic and we respect all the strict measures and we understand that these are for all and it's not just an exception for us. We know that the love we give to the Club, it will always come back to us.
"That's why we can't stand the fact that we might be two kilometres away from it, but don't have the chance to go and hug them all and show our love for what they have done for me to be smiling all the time."
Xylogiannopoulos admitted the question of why he chooses to follow the Foxes is something he is frequently asked. Often showing his support from afar, he also regularly attends matches at King Power Stadium along with fellow LCFC Hellas fan group members, including the final Premier League fixture to house fans before the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite residing in Athens, Antonios has attended several City matches at King Power Stadium and around the country.
"I don't think it's strange (that I support Leicester)," he revealed. "Every international member that you ask, they might say that it is a huge family and we really feel that we belong in this huge family club.
"We do get appreciated, we do get love from everybody in the stadium, numerous things about how people treat us, I cannot say that there is one negative thing.
"When my five-year-old daughter attended the last game that she could attend against Aston Villa, when we won 4-0 in March, the love that people were showing to her, they even gave her a blanket so she didn't feel cold."
Xylogiannopoulos also had his say on the upcoming European game, believing that the Foxes have a good chance of extending their lead at the top of the group after an opening victory over Zorya Luhansk last week.
"AEK will be tough, but they have to deal with a high number of injured players, exactly like we do," he added.
Antonis says he always receives a warm welcome when he travels to England to support his beloved Foxes.
"I believe if we compare both sides' strongest XIs, Leicester is for sure the big favourite in this meeting. By taking into consideration the injuries that both teams face, Leicester gains an even bigger advantage because of the depth that we have in our squad.
"It's highly possible that AEK does not have more than 12 fit players to choose from, they are all very tired because they did not have the opportunity to rotate in the previous game and we shall not forget to mention two more qualifying rounds in order to compete at the group stage.
"I believe especially knockout games not only exhaust players physically, but also mentally, so I have a strong belief that we will do well in the game. Especially in the second half, by maybe introducing Jamie Vardy into the game, it will be easier for us to score goals and eventually win."
In terms of the Europa League as a whole, he sees it as an ideal tournament to progress far into, taking advantage of City's first venture in European competition since a run to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2016/17.
Antonios collects various Foxes memorabilia and shirts that he proudly displays at his home in Greece.
"I am a big fan of Brendan Rodgers and his work and before this competition started, Leicester had six games and with a full fit squad could win all six of them," he revealed.
"It wasn't a matter of if Leicester can qualify for the next round or if they finish first or second. Even if we didn't start well in this group, I would still believe that we can finish first in this group stage.
"No matter what the result is on Thursday, I strongly believe we can make it and I think Leicester will try and go as far as they can go in this competition."
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