Panathinaikos bows to Real

MADRID – Real Madrid continued their untroubled progress toward the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday night as Raul scored twice to help them to a 3-0 win at home over Panathinaikos. The victory puts Real three points clear at the top of Group C ahead of Sparta Prague, who won 1-0 at Porto. Panathinaikos and the Portuguese side prop up the group with one point apiece. Real’s second victory in as many games was set up by a deflected Ivan Helguera goal four minutes before halftime. Vicente del Bosque’s side had a nervous spell at the start of the second period, but Raul’s instinct for being in the right place at the right time eventually settled the contest. The Spanish international made it 2-0 at the 66-minute mark, heading into an empty net after the ball had broken to him in the box from a Roberto Carlos cross. And the impish striker was first to react again six minutes later to turn in left-footed after Luis Figo’s free kick had been deflected on to the post by the keeper. Real’s dominance for much of the remainder of the game had the crowd chanting Ole, but it was Panathinaikos who came closest to scoring, as Derek Boateng forced a fine save from Iker Casillas with a powerful header seven minutes from time. Real’s superiority, however, had the visitors penned in their own half for long periods. The first decent chance of the game came on 11 minutes, Helguera feeding Zinedine Zidane at the edge of the box and the Frenchman striking over the bar. Fernando Morientes came within a whisker of opening the scoring a couple of minutes later, with only a last-gasp interception from Paulo Sousa keeping out his snap shot from a Figo cross. Raul saw his header from a Zidane chip well saved by Antonis Nikopolidis on 27 minutes, with Morientes missing his kick as the rebound fell to him. Panathinaikos had just a couple of promising runs down the flanks to give them breathing space, yet they almost made it through to halftime with the score level. That they did not was due to a combination of brilliant attacking play from the home side and a slice of bad luck for Nikopolidis. Zidane, who was running the midfield with his customary elan, spotted Helguera making a run at the far post and floated over a perfect cross. Spanish midfielder Helguera took the ball on his chest and smacked it toward the goal. The angle was tight and the Greek keeper looked to have it covered, but the ball somehow went in off his right heel to give Real the lead. The highly rated Emmanuel Olisadebe had two half-chances at the start of the second half before Raul made the game safe with his double strike. Panathinaikos coach Yiannis Kyrastas was frustrated that his team was not more adventurous. It was a great experience for our team, but in the first half we showed far too much respect for Real Madrid, Kyrastas said. We did not have the confidence and calm to pass the ball around and we did not close down their speedy forwards quickly enough. I think we played a very complete game, said Real coach Vicente del Bosque. There was a moment at the start of the second half when they had a chance or two, but otherwise we were as good in defense as we were in attack. In the first 45 minutes we didn’t have a single problem. All in all we were far superior. You don’t know if that’s down to your own qualities or perhaps the opposition being timid but I think the way we played the ball and positioned ourselves on the field was very good.

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