AEK survives big scare

League title contender AEK needed to battle until the very end last night to get past third division club Ethnikos in a fifth round clash for a place in the Greek Cup’s quarterfinals. Playing away, the first division side eventually survived a penalty shootout after the game had ended at 0-0 in regular time and 1-1 at the end of extra time. It was a repeat match following a 1-1 draw at AEK’s home ground a little before the holiday season break in Greek soccer. That game, too, was a dramatic one with both goals coming in the encounter’s dying stages. AEK will now travel to Volos later this month to meet second division club Niki Volos in the first leg of their home-and-away quarterfinal tie. The return leg will be played a fortnight later. Unlike the competition’s previous rounds of one-off encounters, quarterfinal and semifinal games will be contested over home-and-away ties. The return to one-off cup action this season following years of home-and-away action has brought back the element of surprise that was sorely missing in the competition. It has also led to quite a few surprise results including the early exit of Panathinaikos following a 1-0 loss in Crete to second division club Ergotelis in the fourth round. Yesterday’s fifth round repeat match was one of three needed to clear things up in the round. Tonight, Apollon Kalamaria greets Larissa after the teams played a scoreless draw in their first game. Egaleo will meet Akratitos in the other repeat match, scheduled for January 17, for a place in the quarterfinals. AEK, playing with a full strength line-up, was unable to break through the stubborn third division side’s defense line. The Athens side looked like it had finally done its task by scoring in the 113th minute with a goal by defender Bruno Cirillo from close range. Six minutes later, or a minute before the end of extra time, Ethnikos struck back when Marin Petrov tapped in after the ball rebounded off a fallen AEK defender. The far more experienced AEK side remained calm enough to survive the penalty shootout with a 4-3 score. The competition’s defending champion Olympiakos is already through to the quarterfinals following a 2-0 away win against lower-league club Thrasyvoulos in the fourth round.

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