Panathinaikos win offers relief in domestic doldrums

Panathinaikos offered some respite last night to the overall gloom felt by Greek fans over disappointing results this season by local teams playing in European club-level competition with a 2-0 win at home over Hapoel Tel-Aviv in the UEFA Cup’s opening round of group play. The game was played in Athens to an empty Olympic Stadium because of a one-game fan ban imposed on the Greek team for previous crowd problems. The Athens club took the lead early in the second half with an own goal. Defender Tal Chen deflected a Sebastian Romero cross into his goalkeeper’s net in the 47th minute. Romero made it 2-0 in the 64th with a left-foot drive that provided the Argentinean midfielder with his first ever goal in European club-level competition. Panathinaikos was up against a former coach, Itzhak Shum, now at Hapoel Tel-Aviv, who led the Greek club to a league-and-cup double two seasons ago but was then forced to resign. Panathinaikos, competing in Group G, next plays Mlada Boleslav, away, on November 2, then hosts Rapid Bucharest on November 30, and travels to meet Paris Saint-Germain on December 13. The first three teams from all eight groups advance to the next stage, where they will be joined by the third-placed teams from the Champions League’s eight groups for home-and-away knockout rounds all the way to the UEFA Cup final. Panathinaikos will be hoping to carry on for a while, which would help offset the gloom being generated by Olympiakos and AEK, Greece’s two Champions League representatives. AEK, which lost 3-1 at Lille on Tuesday, and Olympiakos, beaten 1-0 at home by AS Roma on Wednesday night, have secured just a point each from their three games at the halfway stage, with neither having a realistic chance of making the knockout rounds. Last year was not much better as Olympiakos and Panathinaikos stumbled out at the group stage. Olympiakos coach Trond Sollied believes the problem lies in a weak domestic league. «You can’t compare the Greek league to [Italy’s] Serie A,» he said after Wednesday’s defeat. «Roma is used to intense games each weekend. Olympiakos is not.» Sollied’s side went down Wednesday night following a lone strike late in the game from Italian international Simone Perrotta, which was enough to give Roma a fortunate 1-0 win over Olympiakos. The win gives Roma six points and leaves them clear in second place in Group D ahead of Olympiakos and Shakhtar Donetsk who have one point each. Valencia top the group with a maximum nine. Olympiakos produced most of the chances with Michalis Konstantinou going close twice in the first half. Returning to domestic play, for all the marketing that went into launching the Greek Super League this year, there is little evidence to suggest it is any different from the fare on offer over the last decade. The top three or four teams, notably Olympiakos, have the money and can buy domestic success with better players and bigger television contracts. Olympiakos still have a dreadful record in Europe, however. Having qualified for the Champions League for 10 successive seasons they have only once reached the second phase once. (Reuters, Kathimerini)