Rosenborg strike back twice to spoil Panathinaikos hopes

Rosenborg twice came from behind as Thorstein Helstad’s two goals forced a 2-2 draw against Panathinaikos in the Champions League on Wednesday night, leaving the Greek side’s qualifying hopes in doubt. To reach the knockout phase, the Greek champs must beat PSV Eindhoven in Athens in their final Group E match on December 7 and hope Arsenal fail to defeat Rosenborg at Highbury. «It will be difficult for us to qualify,» said Panathinaikos coach Zdenek Scasny. Leaders PSV reached the last 16 with a 1-1 draw against nine-man Arsenal in Eindhoven that put them on 10 points, followed by their opponents with seven and Panathinaikos on six. Rosenborg are now out of Europe this season and will finish bottom after picking up just two points from five matches. But they had Helstad to thank against Panathinaikos as he came off the bench to haul his side back into the match after the break on a very wet and snow-dusted pitch to cancel out goals by Michalis Constantinou on 16 minutes and Rudolf Skacel on 71 minutes. «My players gave all they had on a very difficult pitch,» Scasny said. «We played good football in the first half and then Rosenborg had a couple of easy goals in the second half.» Constantinou put the visitors ahead with a low drive past Espen Johnson from 10 meters after being put through by Ezequiel Gonzalez, and they should have extended their lead after creating by far the better chances but could not find the net. The introduction of Helstad after 56 minutes changed the course of the match, however, as he equalized with a deft finish off the outside of his right foot 12 minutes later. Skacel put the Greek side back in front shortly afterward as Johnson completely missed a cross, leaving Skacel to place the ball into the goal with the Rosenborg defense stranded. Helstad then came to the rescue again when his header was saved by Costas Chalkias, who then found himself helpless as the substitute followed up to grab his second goal. He could even have scored the winner and taken home the match ball for a hat trick a minute from time, but somehow his close-range effort went over when it seemed easier to score. «We did not play a good first half but in the second half we were the best,» said new Rosenborg coach Per Joar Hansen. His team won their 13th Norwegian league title in a row this year, but have struggled in the Champions league with their only other point coming from a 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal. (Reuters)