AEK held to surprise draw

League title contender AEK was held to an unanticipated 1-1 draw by defense-minded third-division club Ethnikos in a fifth-round Greek Cup encounter last night that ended in a dramatic fashion with both goals scored during injury time. The pair must now play a repeat match, this time at the third-division club’s home ground, which will determine which of the two advances to the Greek Cup’s quarterfinals. It will be played either January 10 or 11, the dates set for repeat matches of the fifth round’s drawn games. AEK, the game’s host, played to an empty stadium because of a fan ban imposed for recent violence. Playing without key players for much of the game, the encounter’s obvious favorite dominated throughout the match but was unable to break the determined underdog’s tightly packed defense. A frequent scorer of late goals this season, AEK took the lead in the 91st minute with a header from striker Alessandre Soares from a Julio Cesar free kick. All appeared to have ended there. But Ethnikos managed to equalize right before the final whistle, in the 95th minute, with a perfectly struck free kick from Brazilian Da Silva that went in off the post. AEK’s goal scorer had come on as a substitute 15 minutes earlier as part of coach Fernando Santos’s bid to bolster his side’s below-strength lineup. Regular starters Nikos Lymberopoulos and Costas Katsouranis, both internationals, also came off the bench well into the game. Sensing that he had underestimated Ethnikos’s resistance, Santos summoned Katsouranis for action right after halftime, while Lymberopoulos, AEK’s top scorer in league action with eight goals after 14 rounds, joined play in the 64th minute. «We’d done our homework on Ethnikos and knew they were capable of defending well. Of course, we knew what was needed, but we ended up not doing it. We played as if this were a friendly game,» noted Santos. «Today provided an opportunity for some squad members to play. If they didn’t play today, when would they have played?» In another surprising outcome yesterday, Cretan second-division club Ergotelis – which provided the competition’s biggest upset so far by eliminating Panathinaikos with a 1-0 home in the previous round – failed to get past third-division opponent Agrotikos Asteras. Playing away, Ergotelis, currently placed second in the second division, suffered a 2-0 defeat against Agrotikos Asteras, which lies third in the third division’s northern league. The home team went ahead in the 17th minute and added a second 20 minutes later for its 2-0 victory and quarterfinals berth. In last night’s other game, mid-table first-division clubs Larissa and Apollon Kalamaria played to a scoreless draw. The round will be completed today with four more games: Ethnikos Asteras vs Panionios, Ionikos vs Niki Volos, Xanthi vs Panachaiki, and Akratitos vs Aegaleo. Olympiakos, out to defend both league and cup titles this season, advanced to the Greek Cup’s quarterfinals on Tuesday with a 2-0 away win against Thrasyvoulos, currently lying third in the second division.