SPORTS

AEK opens its European quest with yet another drawn match

AEK confirmed its status as the Champions League draw specialists on Wednesday, battling out a 1-1 stalemate with Deportivo La Coruna in its opening Group C match. In another first-round game involving a Greek club, Real Sociedad narrowly defeated a determined Olympiakos 1-0 in a Group D encounter in Spain. AEK, which drew in all six of its group matches last season, left it late this time with the excellent Vassilis Tsiartas striking a minute from time to reward a second half of sustained pressure. After creating several chances for his teammates, the Greek international midfielder fired a low left-foot shot under Deportivo goalkeeper Jose Molina. Deportivo enjoyed the better start as its fluid forward line unsettled AEK’s defense. Coach Javier Irureta’s gamble in leaving Spain striker Diego Tristan on the bench in favor of Walter Pandiani paid off after only 12 minutes. The Uruguayan forward was first to a Victor Sanchez corner and opened the scoring with a near-post header. «The draw was a fair result, as we were the better team in the second half,» commented AEK coach Dusan Bajevic. Olympiakos, the other Greek club to launch its Champions League campaign on Wednesday, held strongly against the Spanish side Real Sociedad, but conceded a late penalty 10 minutes from time. The Greek side had dominated the first half, but Real Sociedad coach Raynald Denoueix’s decision to throw in forward Nihat Kahveci and Lee Chun-Soo after the break changed the course of the match. Sociedad took advantage when they were awarded a penalty after Darko Kovacevic was brought down in the area by defender Athanassios Kostoulas in the 80th minute and then cracked home from the spot. «Getting three points from our first game was really important,» the Frenchman told a post-match news conference on Wednesday. The Basque side had pushed Real Madrid in the race for the Spanish title last season. Olympiakos coach Oleg Protasov said he was deeply disappointed to lose such a close game, but said his side’s performance gave them hope. «It is always painful to lose 1-0 in the dying minutes, and it’s even worse when it comes as a result of a penalty,» said the Ukraine-born coach. «It is just a shame that with one error all our hard work ended up being wasted. But they were a good team and we mustn’t get disheartened for future games.» (Reuters)