Hope dwindles following loss

AEK’s chances of making it beyond the Champions League’s group stage were seriously dented Tuesday night by a 3-1 loss at Lille that left the Athens club last in Group H with just one point from three games. For the French side, which went into the game with two draws in its preceding Group H games, the win revived its chances of making it through to the competition’s next round for the first time in the club’s history. Lille, playing its home fixtures in nearby Lens because its stadium does not meet UEFA’s standards, moves up to second in the group on five points, two less than AC Milan, which won 1-0 at Anderlecht, also on Tuesday. AEK is last with just one point and looks unlikely to survive the group phase. Lille outplayed AEK but left its victory until the last moment with two goals in the encounter’s final few minutes. Substitute forward Daniel Gygax put the French side 2-1 up with eight minutes remaining before midfielder Jean Makoun wrapped up the tie in added time. Young forward Mathieu Robail had opened the scoring for Lille on 64 minutes but the visitors leveled four minutes later thanks to substitute Vladimir Ivic. «We fought hard for this victory, showing character and pride,» said Lille coach Claude Puel. «This will give us a lot of confidence. We are improving, we have more experience but it’s still too early to talk about qualifying.» Lille dictated the pace from the kickoff and created a great chance on 28 minutes with a header from close range by midfielder Mathieu Bodmer, which AEK’s Italian goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino managed to block. Relying on counterattacks, the visitors threatened a few minutes later with a long-range effort from Brazilian forward Julio Cesar that required a brilliant save from spectacular Lille and Senegal goalkeeper Tony Sylva. The home side soon resumed their forward march and came close again when Robail hit the side netting from close range just before halftime. In the second half of a scrappy match featuring nine yellow cards, Lille appeared to run out of steam and ideas until Robail put the team ahead, giving the signal for an exciting finale. «We will have learned lessons from this,» said midfielder Yohan Cabaye. «We know now that we can fight back and turn a match around. That’s important.» (Reuters, Kathimerini)