A scrappy deflected goal early in the second half was enough for Galatasaray to carve out an edgy 1-0 win over Panathinaikos to seal first place in Group F in the Europa League with one game to spare.
The Turks started brightly as they went on the attack straight away, but they had to wait until the ninth minute before they carved out their first real threat. Arda Turan spun past his man on the right wing and evaded two further challenges at the byline before squaring the ball to the middle but Cedric Kante was able to stab it away before it could reach a purple shirt.
Gala and the raucous Ali Sami Yen faithful thought they had taken the lead on 18 minutes. A long ball out of defense was touched on by Shabani Nonda for Mustafa Sarp, who lobbed the ball over the advancing Alexandros Tzorvas and delightfully watched it bounce into the back of net. But as the celebrations began, the referee consulted his linesman and annulled the goal for offside.
Panathinaikos, who were looking to avenge the 3-1 home loss in the reverse fixture in the opening group game, were completely outplayed in the opening exchanges and their first attempt at goal didn’t arrive until the 36th minute. Djibril Cisse pounced on some slack defending when he ghosted in behind Cervet Setin and rifled in low shot inside the box, but Leo Franco was alert enough to push it out at his near post.
The Turks responded shortly after when Arda showed some brilliant footwork to keep the ball in possession despite being surrounded by Pana’s white shirts, before flicking on a through pass to Baris Ozbek, who just dragged his shot wide. Sabri Sarioglu then whipped in a deep cross from the right but Harry Kewell headed over at the backpost as he and Nonda both went for the ball.
Just five minutes into the second half, Galatasaray deservedly took the lead. Arda curled in a freekick from the left which the Greeks failed to clear and the ball dropped kindly for Sarp who drilled in the loose ball past a wrong-footed Tzorvas’s after taking a wicked deflection off Gilberto, but match officials did not credit it as an own goal.
Ante Rukavina nearly restored parity for the visitors four minutes later when he ran onto a high ball and headed past an on-rushing Leo Franco, but he couldn’t direct his effort on target. Moments later, Cisse again sneaked in behind Cervet and pummeled in a shot from angle, but Leo Franco stood his ground at his near post to swat it away.
Right on the hour mark, Nonda almost doubled the lead for Cimbom when his 20-yard piledriver flew just agonizingly wide of Tzorvas’ right post. As Gala continued to dominate, they began to grow in confidence as the likes of Arda and Nonda turned on the style with some sharp one-touch football just outside the opposing area, but they could never find the killer ball.
With ten minutes on the clock, Abdul Kader Keita stung Tzorvas’s hands with a blistering low shot from a tight angle, which the Pana goalkeeper spilled but recovered in time before Nonda could follow through. Moments later, Keita tried his luck again from a similar distance and position but his ferocious drive this time just shaved the top of the bar.
Cisse responded with an equally ambitious drive at the other end from a freekick 20 yards out, but it sailed low and straight into Leo Franco’s arms. Panathinaikos ended the game strongly as they continually lay siege on the Turkish goal. Another freekick in injury time gave the Greeks hope of salvaging a point while ensuring a nervous finish for the hosts, but Nikos Spiropoulos’ powerful effort flew over the bar.
Galatasaray now have an unassailable 13 points to secure top spot in Group F but Panathinaikos still need a point in their final game against Dinamo Bucharest to book a place in the knockout stage.
KS Leong, Goal.com
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