Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (right) swerves the ball over the wall and past the Rijeka keeper to score AEK’s winner.
AEK had the perfect start to its Europa League group stage campaign, triumphing 2-1 at Rijeka in Croatia on Thursday and is a strong candidate for a top-two finish, given that the group also includes AC Milan and Austria Vienna.
The Athens team was dominant for most of the game and opened the score after just 15 minutes on the clock thanks to a great effort by Petros Mantalos. The Greek international made the most of a poor clearance by the Rijeka defense and saw his shot find its way into the net for 1-0.
The Greek defense was not as consistent as the team’s front line, and on the 29th minute the Croat champion equalized: A corner kick created confusion in the AEK box, Jakob Johansson failed to check Josip Elez and the Split-born center back slotted the equalizer home.
AEK tried to retake the lead before half-time without success, but it was the hosts who missed some chances after the interval. It was therefore against the run of play in the second half that AEK scored its second goal.
It was on the 63rd minute that AEK earned a freekick near the Rijeka area. Specialist Lazaros Christodoulopoulos took it, swerving the ball past the hosts’ keeper to score the winner for AEK.
The Greeks held on during the final spell of the Croats’ pressure and left with all three points that are precious not only for the Athens club but also for Greece’s UEFA ranking.
Up next AEK will host Austria Vienna in Athens on September 28.