PAOK bids farewell to UEFA Cup with big win

PAOK ended an otherwise disappointing UEFA Cup campaign on a positive note with a comfortable 5-1 win over French club Stad Rennes Wednesday night. Both sides went into the game without any hope of reaching the competition’s round of 32. The stage, home-and-away knockout competition all the way to the final, is reserved for the top three teams from the UEFA Cup’s eight groups as well as the third-placed sides from the Champions League’s eight groups. PAOK ended fourth in Group G, picking up just three points from four games. Last-placed Stad Rennes ended with zero points. Romanian club Rapid Bucuresti, Ukraine’s Shakhtar, and Germany’s Stuttgart were Group G’s qualifiers for the round of 32, all with nine points each. An early own goal from Rennes’ Swiss striker Alain Rochat and a spectacular volley from Lazaros Christodoulopoulos set the Thessaloniki club on its way in the first half. Two goals from Yiasemakis Yiasoumis, including a spectacular overhead kick, and a Dimitris Salpigidis goal late in the game offered PAOK fans consolation for the lack of success in its previous UEFA Cup encounters this season. PAOK dominated the game from the beginning. Rochat diverted a dangerous cross from Egyptian winger Sikabala past Rennes goalkeeper Simon Pouplin in the fourth minute. Christodoulopoulos doubled the lead seven minutes before the halftime break with a thundering volley from Christos Maladenis’s lobbed pass, that shot in just under the crossbar. The French visitors stood firmer for much of the second half and were given some hope when Jimmy Briand found time and space inside the PAOK box to score. PAOK responded swiftly to any hopes of a French revival. Goalkeeper Pouplin misjudged a cross in the 79th minute that left Yiasoumis with a simple finish to restore PAOK’s two-goal lead. Just four minutes later, Yiasoumis was brought down in the box and Salpigidis converted from the penalty spot. Yiasoumis rounded off a great performance with a spectacular overhead kick a minute from time. The ball had come back off the crossbar from a Sikabala header. English club Bolton, home of Greek international Stelios Giannakopoulos, qualified in third place despite a 1-1 draw at home with group winner Sevilla. Roma advanced with a 3-1 win over Swiss club Basel, which also made it to the round of 32 after capturing Group E’s third place.