SPORTS

Panathinaikos adds to woeful Champions League beginning

Udinese coach Serse Cosmi had to pinch himself after his side took Panathinaikos apart on their Champions League debut, in a Group C match. Italy striker Vincenzo Iaquinta scored a superb hat trick as the provincial Serie A side crushed the Greeks 3-0 with explosive counter-attacking at the Friuli stadium on Wednesday. The Athens club, which has failed to impress in the early stages of domestic competition, was counting on its extensive experience and respectable record in Europe against the Italian first-timers. «I might still be dreaming and not yet realized it,» said Cosmi, whose team beat Sporting Lisbon in the third qualifying round. «To achieve this on a Champions League debut is incredible, and I hope we can continue with the same enthusiasm and hunger to win. Obviously we were all a little nervous, but we took control after Iaquinta’s first goal. That gave us the confidence to play the type of football we enjoy. After the second goal went in we played to our full potential with 20 minutes of quality football.» Iaquinta was overjoyed with his debut in Europe’s premier club competition. «Three goals on my Champions League debut – it couldn’t have gone any better,» said the 25-year-old Iaquinta. «I’m very happy with my performance and that of the team as a whole. We showed that we are here on merit, and I felt we looked very comfortable at this level.» Iaquinta, whose teammates face a daunting task in their next match on September 27 when they face Spanish giants Barcelona at the Nou Camp, dodged questions about Udinese’s chances of reaching the knockout stages. «We are not setting ourselves any targets. The important thing is to continue this form,» he said. Udinese, who have won both of their opening Serie A matches, dominated the early stages and their adventurous approach paid off in the 28th minute. Antonio Di Natale fed Damiano Zenoni wide on the right wing and his cross was powerfully headed home by Iaquinta. Udinese came under the cosh at the start of the second half until a moment of madness from Galinovic allowed Iaquinta to double his tally in the 73rd minute. The Panathinaikos keeper needlessly rushed out to try and intercept Di Natale’s through-ball but Iaquinta got there first and shot into an unguarded net from an acute angle. Iaquinta ensured he would take home the match ball when he controlled a high ball and quickly spun his marker before beating Galinovic at his near post with a left-footed drive. Udinese next plays powerhouse Barcelona in Spain on Sept. 27. Panathinaikos will host Werder Bremen. In UEFA Cup first-round, first-leg competition, AEK held on for a scoreless draw against Zenit in St Petersburg. PAOK, playing at home against Ukrainian club Metalurh Donetsk, drew 1-1. In games scheduled for last night, Xanthi was due to meet Middlesbrough in the UK, while Thessaloniki team Aris was up against Roma in the Italian capital. Second leg matches have been scheduled for September 29. (AFP, Kathimerini)