Panathinaikos defeats Seville 1-0 in first leg

Undoubtedly dominant in the first half but unable to score, Panathinaikos finally broke through Seville’s defense with a blinding long-range shot from Lucas Vintra midway through the second half for a 1-0 home win in a third-round, first-leg UEFA Cup encounter in Athens last night. The two sides meet for their return leg in Spain on February 24. Possibly heartened by the news of a deal with Italian coach Alberto Malesani a couple of hours prior to kickoff – he watched from the stands ahead of his weekend debut – Panathinaikos went into the game flying. The Athens club kept up the pressure throughout the first 45 minutes of play for a halftime statistic of nine scoring opportunities against just two by the visitors. Recent recruit Fanis Gekas, the league’s top scorer, who joined Panathinaikos having scored 10 times this season with Kallithea before adding a couple more with his new club, coordinated superbly up front with fellow striker Michalis Constantinou. Though dangerous, their uncanny interaction did not produce any scoring. Gekas and Constantinou frequently troubled the formidable Spanish visitor, third in its domestic league, beginning in the fourth minute. The Cypriot striker sent Gekas through with a clever pass but he sent the ball just wide. Seven minutes later, Constantinou flicked the ball for Gekas with just the keeper to beat. But Seville’s goalie Esteban Suarez blocked. On 34 minutes, Panathinaikos bombarded twice without scoring. A Gekas chip produced a fingertip save from Suarez before Ezequiel Gonzalez header was cleared off the line by Seville defender Aitor Ocio.

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