Champions League setbacks deepen further

The prospects of two of Greece’s three Champions League representatives for a worthy run in the competition were dampened Tuesday night when both Oympiakos and AEK suffered respective losses to Juventus and Monaco. Olympiakos fought bravely in a home game against Juventus, but two touches of brilliance in two goals by Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved were enough to give Juventus a 2-1 victory. Olympiakos, which also lost its opening game two weeks ago against Real Sociedad after pushing the Spanish side to the very end, shares bottom place with Turkish team Galatasaray in Group D. AEK’s commendable Champions League consistency which had produced seven successive draws in the competition, including a 1-1 result in this season’s opener against Deportivo La Coruna two weeks ago, was severely ruptured by a humbling 4-0 defeat against French side Monaco. The heavy loss, which leaves AEK third in Group C, prompted tension within the Athens club’s ranks during the game, which is threatening to spill over in the aftermath. Two of the club’s star players, Vassilis Tsiartas – who came on as a substitute – and Grigoris Georgatos, both appeared to want to be taken off the field as the grimness of AEK’s performance began to set in during the second half. Unnerved by Monaco’s 2-0 lead at halftime after two goals from the French club’s Spanish international striker Fernando Morientes in the 23rd and 27th minutes, AEK coach Dusan Bajevic said he expected his players to fight back during the game’s remainder. «We were set back by two [further] goals in the second half and I can’t understand the behavior of my players. A team’s coach is always greatly responsible for a defeat, but I can’t accept this sort of behavior,» Bajevic said, probably referring to the turmoil caused by Tsiartas and Georgatos. Monaco’s win, which gives the side Group C’s top spot with six points from two games, extended the French league leader’s unbeaten run to eight games. In his post-match comments, AEK striker Yiannis Okkas admitted that lost scoring opportunities early in the game would not have influenced the game. «Let’s face reality. Monaco was the side that wanted victory more and deservedly got the desired result. We may have begun well, but we eventually surrendered and fell apart,» said Okkas. AEK might have gone ahead after only 50 seconds when a slick passing move ended with Okkas firing just wide from 20 meters, or when Okkas, supplied again by his captain, the dangerous Christos Maladenis, headed a ball into the side netting. Another run by Maladenis almost sent Okkas clear again after 16 minutes. In its Group D game against Juventus, Olympiakos offered a glimpse of hope for its fans when the Piraeus club went ahead in the 11th minute. But the Italians, who share top spot with Real Sociedad with six points from two games, eventually took control. «It was tiring to lift ourselves up when we lost possession, as the Greeks outnumbered us in midfield. However, we were technically superior and in the end it showed,» remarked Juventus’s coach Marcello Lippi. «We did well in the second half to snatch an important victory,» he added. Olympiakos coach Oleg Protasov, whose aspirations for a second-round berth in the competition now seem dim following Tuesday’s second loss in as many games, said his team would battle it out to the end. «We never stop hoping. We had more chances and it could have been better for us. But we’ll just have to learn from the result,» Protasov said. Playing at a sold-out Giorgos Kamaras Stadium, Olympiakos charged forward from the start and took an early lead with a header by Ieroklis Stoltidis. The scorer, in his Champions League debut, headed in a perfect center from French midfielder Christian Karemebeu to beat Gianluigi Buffon in the 11th minute. Ten minutes later, Nedved leveled with a blistering ground-hugging free kick from outside the Greek area. Predrag Djordjevic missed a major scoring opportunity for the hosts when the Yugoslav midfielder hit Buffon’s left post. But the visitors – playing without star striker Alessandro Del Piero – wasted a similar chance in the 76th when a lob by Fabrizio Miccoli hit Fanis Kateryiannakis’s crossbar. Olympiakos launched continued attacks to score again, but the Italian powerhouse netted the winner when Nedved caught Kateryiannakis out of position and fired the ball past him with a remarkable right-footed drive from the edge of the box. (Kathimerini, AFP, AP, Reuters)