Panathinaikos’s sturdy fight ends in failure

Stuttgart scored two second-half goals in only two minutes on Tuesday night to stun a spirited Panathinaikos 3-1 and stay on top of Group E in the Champions League. Michalis Constantinou opened the scoring for Panathinaikos but the Germans got back in the game after an own goal by Takis Fyssas. Strikes from Kevin Kuranyi and Andreas Hinkel gave the Germans an impressive away win. «Like games in Germany, we don’t mind if we are behind. We get ourselves organized and win,» Stuttgart coach Felix Magath said. The defeat for Panathinaikos, its third in four European games, ended the Athens club’s slim chances of a place in the next round of Europe’s most prestigious competition. The Greeks must now fight it out for third place in the group with Scottish club Glasgow Rangers for a spot in the UEFA Cup. With four games played, Stuttgart has nine points, level with Manchester United, which beat Rangers 3-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday. The Scots are in third place with four points, ahead of Panathinaikos with just one. Disappointed by Panathinaikos’s dismal recent performances both in the Champions League and the Greek first division, only 6,000 spectators attended the match at the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium. But they did manage to work up a fiery atmosphere, complete with flares, which are habitually used by fans of local clubs. Yesterday, responding to a strict letter of warning by UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, Greece’s soccer federation, EPO, held an emergency board meeting, during which officials agreed that strict measures were urgently needed. In its letter, delivered to EPO’s chief Vassilis Gagatsis on Monday, UEFA warned that rowdy behavior by fans of Greek clubs this season, particularly in Athens, had pushed the association to consider imposing hefty penalties on the country’s three Champions League representatives, AEK, Olympiakos, and Panathinaikos. The clubs could be barred from using their home grounds, or forced to play home games before empty stands, UEFA warned. Fines already imposed by UEFA on the three clubs this season had reached 340,000 Swiss francs (220,000 euros), almost double last season’s amount, the letter noted. Deputy Culture Minister Giorgos Lianis, in charge of the country’s sports portfolio and who attended the EPO meeting, said that ruthless measures were urgently needed, and that the government was ready to ratify a series of amendments aimed at eradicating violence in sports. «We’re the only European country plagued by such a problem and soccer is being directly threatened, which, in turn, is threatening the [country’s] entire sporting image ahead of the Olympic Games,» said Lianis. «Violence is a social problem which must be solved now, not tomorrow,» he added. Gagatsis, EPO’s chief, said the federation was willing to fully comply with the government’s plans. Panathinaikos’s latest defeat could affect coach Itzhak Shum’s future at the club. «We should have scored in the first half. But that’s soccer,» the Israeli coach said. «We took the lead but we conceded three goals within minutes and we lost.» Panathinaikos dominated the first half but failed to find the net. Cypriot striker Constantinou was on target in the 59th with a ground-hugging shot from outside the area to put Panathinaikos ahead. The celebrations did not last long as Fyssas accidentally leveled for the visitors in the 67th. In a desperate effort to clear a threatening cross from Kuranyi, the Greek defender slid the ball straight into his own net. The Germans charged forward and took the lead with a low shot from Kuranyi from the edge of the area in the 75th. Hinkel sealed the victory in the 77th, twisting through the defense before smashing the ball past keeper Antonis Nikopolidis. (AP, Kathimerini)