Barcelona’s winning start ends in Athens

Barcelona’s impressive winning start to its Champions League campaign came to a halt on Tuesday night when it was held to a goal-less draw by Panathinaikos at the Olympic Stadium. The result leaves Barcelona at the top of Group C with seven points from three games. Panathinaikos is second with four, along with Udinese, which drew 1-1 with Werder Bremen. In a game that was full of running, tough tackling and end-to-end action, neither side was able to find a winner. Samuel Eto’o came closest for Barcelona but was twice denied by Mario Galinovic and late on failed to find the net from a tight angle after rounding the Panathinaikos goalkeeper. Panathinaikos had showed from the start it had no intention of being overawed by the visitors with a series of biting tackles that earned a yellow card for Sandor Torghelle. Vangelis Mantzios drew a good save from Victor Valdes in the Barcelona goal, while Ronaldhino was kept quiet at the other end by an excellent defensive performance from Loukas Vintra. The second half, which produced a deafening chorus of boos and whistles from the crowd whenever Barcelona began to string together a sequence of passes, was equally hard-fought with Eto’o causing the most problems. Mark van Bommel was fortunate not to get a red card for a bad challenge but his yellow card rules him out of the return match in Spain on November 2. Panathinaikos midfielder Anthony Seric will also miss the game after picking up another yellow card. Panathinaikos coach Alberto Malesani warned striker Torghelle he will not play for the club again if he reacts badly to being substituted. The Hungarian objected to Malesani’s decision to replace him with Sotiris Leontiou in the 58th minute. «Torghelle’s reaction was the only negative aspect of the night,» said Malesani. «It was completely the opposite of [defender] Ioannis Goumas, who was left out of the squad altogether and caused no problems at all. I know the fans like [Torghelle] but I will be speaking to him about his behavior. I didn’t like it and if he repeats it, he won’t play for this club again.» Malesani said his team had played above expectations to gain a valuable point from the Spanish champions and Group C leaders. «I think we played very well and in truth sometimes we played beyond our expectations. We played like a team, with discipline, and put Barcelona under pressure.» The Italian is proving a master of surprise in his team selection. In the previous game against Werder Bremen, he introduced several inexperienced youngsters, notably Mantzios and Philippos Darlas who both rose to the occasion and kept their places against Barcelona. His latest surprise was the conversion of former Liverpool midfielder Igor Biscan, who had not played in the first team for a month, to center-back in place of Goumas, who only last week played for Greece against Georgia. «Biscan was ready for this game and I wanted him there because he is very quick and we needed quick players,» said Malesani. «He played very well; in fact he may have found a new role tonight. I always thought the new players like Biscan and [Flavio] Conceicao would take time to settle in, but people in Greece are not very patient.»