Panathinaikos valiantly proves its reliability in Europe again

Panathinaikos, the country’s most reliable side in European competition over recent years, overcame its mostly lackluster form in Europe this year with an impressive 3-1 win over Rangers in Glasgow on Tuesday night to snatch a consolatory place in the UEFA Cup’s third round. The sides, left way behind in the Champions League’s Group E by group winner Manchester United and runner-up Stuttgart, battled for third spot and a place in the less prestigious competition. Panathinaikos, going into Tuesday night’s final round of group play with a mere point from five games, took the three points to tie with Rangers on four points apiece. But the Greek side advanced on a better head-to-head record between the two clubs. Commenting on Panathinaikos’s sudden turnaround of form in Europe for its widely unanticipated place in the UEFA Cup, coach Itzhak Shum recalled the Athens club’s respectable past in Europe, highlighted by a quarterfinal appearance in the Champions League two seasons ago. «People forget that we have a pedigree. Don’t forget the European Panathinaikos,» Shum said following his side’s destruction of the Rangers on Scottish turf. Defender and captain Yiannis Goumas said Tuesday’s victory had answered the club’s critics. «We proved them all wrong with our performance,» he said. Michalis Constantinou, one of Panathinaikos’s three scorers that night, noted: «In Europe, Panathinaikos has done it before and will do it again.» For Rangers, it was a dismal story as the Scottish club’s players and officials were booed off the pitch after another early exit from European competition. «It’s very disappointing because we are out of the UEFA Cup now. It is difficult to explain what happened. It is agony,» said Rangers goalkeeper Stefan Klos. «To have been playing in Europe after Christmas would have been a great achievement for the club but we couldn’t do it,» he added. Michael Mols gave the Scots the lead in the 28th minute with a header. But just four minutes later, the roaring home fans fell silent as Panathinaikos scored a spectacular equalizer. Markus Munch powered through midfield before laying the ball back for Raimondas Zutautas, who drilled a left-footed shot past Klos into the Rangers goal. Growing in confidence as the game progressed, Panathinaikos created a series of scoring opportunities before Angelos Basinas fired the Greek team ahead with an astonishing swirling drive from 30 meters. As Rangers poured forward in search of the equalizer they so desperately wanted, Panathinaikos exploited gaps and was awarded with a third goal in the 80th minute by Constantinou, who rounded Klos to slot the ball into an unguarded net.