SPORTS

Brave PAOK misses out in the end

PAOK bowed out of the Europa League on February 22 but did so in style, drawing 1-1 at CSKA in the freezing Moscow weather.

The Thessaloniki side went out with a 2-1 aggregate score having lost 1-0 at home five days earlier, but deserved more in the second leg as it could have easily defeated the Russians given the sheer number of chances it created on the night.

The game was played in conditions that ice hockey players would have been proud of, as temperature in the Russian capital averaged out at around -15 Centigrade on the day.

PAOK had a strong start to the game and missed two very good chances at the 9th and 11th minute via Vladan Ivic and Dimitris Salpigidis, but the ball rolled just wide of the CSKA post in both cases.

The hosts came close to scoring themselves through Vagner Love and Tomas Necid, but the Greek defense did not face the problems it had anticipated considering CSKA’s dominance in the first leg.

Zlatan Muslimovic hit the post at the 35th minute in PAOK’s biggest chance in the first half, while he also failed to hit the target at the first minute of the second half when his close-range tap-in hit the side netting.

In the second half, PAOK was particularly dominant. Although the hosts were more familiar with the weather conditions, their fitness level was far below that of the Greeks, who have already played three quarters of their league’s regular season and the Russian league has not started yet.

PAOK opened the score when Muslimovic put pressure on recently introduced CSKA goalkeeper Chepchugov, whose clearance bounced on the Bosnian striker and the ball rolled into the net with 23 minutes to go.

Chepchugov had come on a couple of minutes earlier when Russia keeper Igor Akinfeev was injured in a clumsy Salpigidis challenge.

Salpigidis came mighty close to 2-0 at the 75th when a great solo effort by Ivic found the Greece striker, but he could not send the ball in from eight meters away.

Yet at the 78th minute, PAOK goalkeeper Dario Kresic upended Zoran Tosic who was storming into the box and conceded a penalty.

The Croatian keeper got a hand on Vagner Love’s spot kick, the ball then struck the post before Sergey Ignashevich equalized for the Russians from just centimeters away at the 80th minute to give CSKA the ticket to the next round.