Panathinaikos pulls off key win away from home against Sparta Prague

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Panathinaikos claimed a precious 2-0 away victory over Sparta Prague in their Champions League second stage Group C match on Tuesday. Midfielder Giorgos Karagounis scored the first goal in the 39th minute when he picked up a pass while unmarked on the edge of the box and drove home a shot which goalkeeper Petr Cech only managed to slow down on its way into the net. Michalis Constantinou added the Greek club’s second in the 71st minute, driving a low shot inside the left post, after making his way through Sparta’s slow defense. «We let in an unnecessary first goal, which influenced the whole game. We did not play well as a team,» Sparta midfielder Jiri Jarosik said. «We played really bad and Panathinaikos played great. It was really, really tough to get through them.» The win lifted Panathinaikos to second in the group with four points from three matches, five points behind runaway leaders Real Madrid, who have the largest number of points, and one ahead of Sparta. Sparta’s Libor Sionko came close to reducing the deficit a few minutes after the second goal, following a corner, but goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis deflected his header over the crossbar. Sparta defender Tomas Huebschmann was sent off in the 87th minute after a foul on Robert Jarni, who was about to break clear in the middle of the pitch. Sparta, with its team strength depleted by injuries and the sale of several players during the winter break, were largely harmless, although substitute Lukas Zelenka breathed some life into their attack after coming in in the 54th minute. Their morale was dented by a defeat over the weekend from Slovan Liberec which cost them the lead in the Czech league. Sparta coach Jaroslav Hrebik acknowledged that Panathinaikos deserved the win and said Sparta had apparently not found its balance following the sale of Vladimir Labant and Martin Hasek during the winter. «The team has not got into the right playing mood after the loss in Liberec and the winter break,» he told a news conference. «It lacks inner strength.» Panathinaikos, by contrast, were full of confidence after a seven-match winning streak in the Greek league under their new coach Sergio Markarian. «I am very happy with this victory. This is a very important one for the club,» Markarian said.

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