‘Trip from heaven to hell and back’

Ilias Kotsios scored deep into extra time on Tuesday night to take Panathinaikos to the group stage of the Champions League following a sensational 4-1 win over Wisla Krakow for a 5-4 aggregate score. Panathinaikos coach Alberto Malesani praised the determination of his players. «I talked to my players for just two minutes at half-time. I told them nothing is impossible in life, that they should have faith,» Malesani said. «I also reminded them of the Champions League final [last season] between Milan and Liverpool. I am the first to believe that anything can happen and I tried to remind them of that. I want to congratulate them and thank them – some of them played 120 minutes at 100 kilometers an hour despite suffering from cramps.» Midfielder Anthony Seric insisted Panathinaikos never lost hope despite the Athens club’s worrying first-leg defeat of 3-1. «We gave everything we had to win and qualify,» Seric said. »I knew deep down that we would not waste this opportunity. It was a trip from heaven to hell and back – an unforgettable experience.» Throwing everyone into attack, Kotsios headed in a corner kick from Costas Haralambides in the 113th minute. The late strike earned Panathinaikos its fourth straight appearance in the group stage of the Champions League. After a scoreless first half, Panathinaikos started taking risks and South African defender Nasief Morris got the first goal in the 62nd minute with a header off a looping free kick from Haralambides. In the 65th, Panathinaikos doubled its lead – enough to put them through on away goals – when Wisla goalkeeper Radoslaw Majdan was unable to hold a blistering free kick from Anthony Seric. Poland international Emmanuel Olisadebe headed into an empty goal. The visitors silenced the 60,000-crowd at the Olympic Stadium in the 78th, however. Surrounded by four Panathinaikos defenders on the edge of the area, Radoslaw Sobolewski curled in a stunning shot, leaving Panathinaikos keeper Mario Galinovic no chance. Substitute Dimitris Papadopoulos leveled the match on aggregate in the 87th after a surging run and a shot which hit Arkadiusz Glowacki’s knee before finding the net. One minute before the end of regulation, Sobolewski was given his second yellow card and sent off. The Greek club was one of 16 to make it through third-round qualifying competition for a group berth. These 16 teams, and as many others that advanced automatically, all go into today’s draw for eight groups of four teams each. Olympiakos, Greece’s other Champions League entry, qualified for the group stage automatically as domestic champion. In other third-round qualifiers Tuesday, defending champion Liverpool lost 1-0 at home to Bulgaria’s CSKA Sofia, but the English club’s preceding 3-1 away win was enough to put it through with a 3-2 aggregate score. Monaco, the competition’s runner-up in the 2003/2004 season, failed to make it to the group stage after being held to a 2-2 draw at home by Spain’s Real Betis. The Spaniards, who had won the first leg 1-0, advanced with a 3-2 aggregate. (AP, Kathimerini)

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