Just How Important Was Panathinaikos' Inter Triumph?

Panathinaikos’ Champions League victory over Inter Milan will live long in the memory of a generation of fans,but just where does it sit in Greek football history? Goal.com’s Chris Paraskevas gives his list of the most important accomplishments for Greek football on the European scene…
Introduction: Olympiakos vs AC Milan, European Cup 1959-60 Preliminary Round

Up against the Milan side who had claimed their seventh Serie A title the season before, Olympiakos became the first team from Greece to compete in European competition – they had withdrawn from their preliminary round tie with Besiktas in the 1958/59 season.

Milan only two seasons earlier had narrowly lost to Real Madrid in the European Cup final and boasted the likes of the legendary "Pepe" Schiaffino, Jose Altafini, Nils Liedholm – who had captained the 1958 side in the final – and Cesare Maldini.

It was a respectable – and landmark - introduction to continental football for Greece, Olympiakos twice taking the lead in the first leg, which they drew 2-2, before going down 3-1 in the second.

Setting the Standard: AEK Athens 1968-69 European Cup Campaign

AEK Athens became the first ever Greek team to progress past the first round of the European Cup, reaching the Quarter-Finals before being eliminated by Slovakian giants Spartak Trnava, a club at the beginning of a golden era in their history under the tutelage of manager Anton Malatinsky.

AEK lost the away leg 2-1 before narrowly missing out on progress after a 1-1 draw in Athens - that Trnava side would go on to lose narrowly to Johan Cruyff’s Ajax in the Semi-Finals.

Led by legendary Hungarian manager Jeno Csaknady, AEK had just been crowned champions of Greece and were experiencing one of the more successful periods of their own history and enjoyed a European run the likes of which had never before been seen by their country.

The Big Victory: Panathinaikos vs Everton, 1970-1971 European Cup Quarter-Final

Magyar legend-turned manager Ferenc Puskas gave Greek football undoubtedly its greatest victory in 1971, despite the fact that Panathinaikos never tangibly beat Everton on the pitch.

Manager Harry Catterick had just led the Toffees to an English title but they were stunned by their opponents at Goodison Park, where Antonis Antoniadis put the Greeks ahead on 82 minutes, before a last-gasp effort by Scotland international Graeme Sharp helped the Merseysiders avoid embarrassment – a scoreless draw in the return leg offered the Greeks a shock passage into the semi-finals by virtue of the away goals rule.

Mystery Men: Panathinaikos vs Red Star Belgrade, 1970-71 European Cup Semi-Final

The victory itself was stunning, the controversy surround it everlasting.

If only for its place in history and the interest and debate it still generates, Panathinaikos’ 4-4 aggregate victory on away goals over the Serbian powerhouses holds a place as one of the most significant moments in the history of Greek football.

It was a result made all the more shocking by Greece’s traditional lack of success against its Balkan neighbours on both the domestic and international arena, with the Greeks overturning a 4-1 deficit in the return leg in Athens, where two goals from Antoniadis gave Panathinaikos a famous 3-0 win.

Since then, the tie has perhaps become better known for the myths surrounding the military junta that ruled Greece at the time and their apparent deal with Red Star officials to have the game fixed with national interests in mind.

It is a story that has been officially denied since, with Panathinaikos fans similarly pointing to the two occasions on which Red Star apparently hit the woodwork in Athens.

A Place In History: Panathinaikos vs Ajax, 1970-71 European Cup Final

Following their famous victories over Everton and Red Star, the date was set for Puskas’ side to face a Cruyff-inspired Ajax at Wembley – the first ever appearance in a European Cup final of any kind for a Greek team.

The Dutch would begin their European dominance with the then-modern incarnation of total football, beating the Greeks 2-0, though Panathinaikos by all accounts produced a competitive display, earning themselves – and Greek football – a permanent place in European club football history and the memories of football fans everywhere.

Fairytale Run: AEK Athens, 1976-77 UEFA Cup Campaign

A semi-final appearance in the UEFA Cup remains the furthest a Greek side have ever progressed in the competition to this day.

The feat was accomplished by an AEK Athens side enjoying a ‘Golden Era’ under president Loukas Barlos and their famous run included unprecedented victories over a Derby County team who had just emerged out of their tutelage under Brian Clough, an away goals win over Red Star Belgrade and perhaps most famously of all, a penalty shoot-out victory over an in-form Queens Park Rangers outfit who had scored 26 goals in the competition up until that point.

The Greeks were eliminated in the semi-final by Giovanni Trapattoni’s Juventus, who would go on to clinch their first ever European title with a two-legged victory over Athletic Bilbao in the final, though it was a fairytale run to perhaps at least rival that of Panathinaikos’ European Cup campaign five years earlier.

The End Of An Era: Panathinaikos vs Ajax, 1995-96 UEFA Champions League Semi-Final

It represents the last time that Panathinaikos were truly a force on the European stage, as they tragically fell to Ajax 3-1 on aggregate.

They had grabbed a shock 1-0 victory in Amsterdam before the Dutch giants won the return in Greece 3-0, a result that marked the beginning of baron European and domestic spell for Pana – ironically against the same club through which their European pedigree had effectively been born just over two decades earlier.

Heartbreak: Olympiakos, 1998-99 UEFA Champions League Campaign

One of the most talented ever Olympiakos sides came agonisingly close to a UEFA Champions League Semi-Final appearance, as Dusan Bajevic lead a squad that included the likes of a young Predrag Djordjevic, Stelios Giannakopoulos and Sinisa Gogic to the Quarter-Finals of Europe’s premier club competition.

After topping a group that included Croatia Zagreb, Porto and Ajax, they were painfully eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Juventus, though it was the Piraeus club's greatest ever European run.

Inter 0-1 Panathinaikos, 2008-2009 UEFA Champions League: Where does it stand?

Apart from the fact that Greek football only turned professional in 1979, what separates most of the above accomplishments and victories is that they were part of memorable campaigns, as opposed to existing as individual moments of nostalgia.

The likes of Panathinaikos’ victory over Everton and AEK’s victory over Queens Park Rangers would not carry with them the same resonance had they not been part of a greater campaign that would contribute to an image of professionalism and potential within Greek football, rather than a flash of brilliance that is an all-too familiar final note.

AEK’s recent victory over AC Milan, like PAOK’s home clash against Diego Maradona’s Napoli over a decade ago, has provided a generation of fans with memories that will never be forgotten.

Passion, culture and potential have never been characteristics of which the Greek game has been short in Europe and in a similar vein to those two famous European nights, Panathinaikos’ win in Italy will be smiled back upon by Greek fans for years to come.

However, whether it will be remembered by universally – by all football fans – depends upon whether it becomes the catalyst for a campaign that, if successful, could galvanize Greek football as a whole.

In that respect, the true significance of Henk Ten Cate’s tactical victory in Milan might just be realised outside of the walls of the San Siro, when Anorthosis Famagusta travel to Athens on December 9.

With progress from the group stages on that day, Panathinaikos fans might just be able to dream of a new era to match that pioneered by the likes of Domazos, Antoniadis and Economopoulos on the hallowed turf of Wembley all those years ago.

Chris Paraskevas, Goal.com