Sweden international center-back Daniel Majstorovic was named captain by manager Giorgios Donis, who sprang something of a surprise by handing Greece U21 international Vasilis Pliatsikas a starting berth in midfield. The 20 year-old delivered an industrious performance which typified his side’s efforts, as Majstorovic and new signing Sotiris Kyrgiakos forged a near-unbreakable partnership at the heart of the AEK defence.
Meanwhile, Hank Ten Cate’s Panathinaikos were a shadow of the side that beat Sparta Prague over two legs to qualify for the UEFA Champions League group stages, with Karagounis trying in vein to galvanise his often lethargic team-mates.
What began as a predictably tight, physical encounter, with either manager sending their side out with a cautious philosophy, was suddenly given an injection of life on 20’ minutes. Edinho intercepted a stray Sarriegi header in the Panathinaikos half before advancing on the penalty area. From a slight angle, the Portuguese national produced a stunning effort that curled around outstretched goalkeeper Mario Galinovic and nestled in the far corner of the net.
It was an opening forty-five minutes devoid of any clear goal-scoring opportunities, until referee Kyrios Vassaras awarded a dubious penalty to the hosts on the stroke of half-time.
Initially, Lukas Vyntra managed to lose possession of the ball on the touch-line and the ball was eventually clipped into the center of the penalty area by Ismael Blanco. The lively Edinho was again present and fell to ground under pressure from two Panathinaikos defenders as he approached the ball. Galinovic opted to come off his line and fall at the feet of the 26 year-old, with the ball somehow stopping dead in between the ‘keeper, the attacker and the two defenders.
All three scrambled to get a touch on the ball with the crowd appearing to appeal for a handball. Vassaras seemed to have ignored the claims but looked to have followed the directive of his linesman as he was running away for the penalty area when literally spun around and pointed to the spot.
Edinho had been claiming that Spyropoulos had pulled the collar of his shirt and though replays show that the Greece international had at one stage placed his hand over the forward’s shoulder, the innocuous nature of the penalty resulted in wide protests from the Panathinaikos players.
Nonetheless, it was a defensive lapse which lead to the opportunity and Ismael Blanco placed a perfect penalty into the bottom left-hand corner of the net, despite Galinovic guessing the right-way.
After having seen his side go into the break down 2-0 and devoid of any creativity in attack, Ten Cate introduced teenager Sotiris Ninis for Brazilian winger Gabriel. The 18 year-old was recently called up to Otto Rehhagel’s Greece squad for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers against Luxembourg and Latvia and became part of a match that included seven players who have been called up by the German manager.
Despite the introduction of Ninis, it was AEK who had the earliest attempt on goal after the restart, as new signing Nacho Scocco burst out of midfield and unleashed a driven, long-range shot which produced a diving save from Galinovic, who palmed the ball out for a corner.
Despite trailing 2-0, Panathinaikos were simply unable to breach a supremely organized AEK defence, marshalled by Majstorovic, who effectively nullified loan striker Gabriel Souza throughout the match.
The frustration would eventually tell on Ten Cate’s outfit and they were almost the architects of their own down-fall on 78’ minutes, as South Africa itnernational Bryce Moon gave away possession cheaply in midfield. It lead to Ismael Blanco being released into the Panathinaikos half courtesy of a simple through ball and the Argentine raced into the penalty box unchallenged but his strike from inside the area was saved sharply by Galinovic.
It was not to be the last of AEK’s chances to put the result beyond a directionless Panathinaikos, as Nacho Scocco brilliantly turned Sarriegi on 81’ minutes before accelerating into the area and rattling the crossbar with a thunderous effort.
The Trifili did manage to grab a consolation goal in the final minute of injury time as a curled Karagounis free-kick evaded a cluster of bodies inside the penalty area before bouncing past goalkeeper Saja and into the back of the net but it was new AEK manager Giorgios Donis who finally found something to celebrate about following a difficult start to his reign at the club.
AEK Athens 2 - 1 Panathinaikos
AEK Athens: Saja, Edson Ramos Silva, Majstorovic, Kyrgiakos, Juanfran, Rikka, Basinas, Pliatsikas (87’ Kafes), Blanco, Edinho (66’ Lagos), Scocco (90+1’ Alexopoulos)
Panathinaikos: Galinovic, Moon, Vyntra, Sarriegi, Spyropoulos, Simao, Gilberto Silva, Salpiggidis (69’ Petropoulos), Kargounis, Gabriel (46’ Ninis), Souza (86’ Ivanschitz)