Domestic concerns all but end AEK’s UEFA Cup run

AEK’s prospects of a place in the UEFA Cup’s Round of 16 suffered serious, if not irreparable, damage Wednesday night with a 2-0 home loss against Paris Saint-Germain in their first leg. The Athens club was less than full-strength, the prime reason being a string of injuries in recent weeks. AEK’s depleted squad was undermined further by coach Lorenzo Serra Ferrer’s decision to leave the team’s main striker, Greek international Nikos Lymberopoulos, on the bench. The move strongly suggested that AEK was more concerned about an upcoming domestic clash this Sunday against Panathinaikos. The rival Athens-based clubs are locked in battle for the Greek Super League’s second spot and a place in the top-tier Champions League’s pre-group qualifying round next season. But, as things have turned out, AEK’s coach and players will need to work, mentally, following a disappointing effort against PSG, especially in the second half, to rebound on time for Sunday’s demands. Central defender Traianos Dellas and midfielder Akis Zikos, two of AEK’s key players missing because of injury Wednesday night, both look set to return from injury. PSG, too, went into the game preoccupied by domestic concerns. Newly appointed coach Paul Le Guen declared ahead of Wednesday’s match that PSG’s survival in France’s top division outweighed the importance of the team’s UEFA Cup course. PSG is currently hovering just above the relegation zone. Even so, PSG’s 2-0 win in Athens has given the French club a great opportunity to progress to the last 16. The visiting French team took the lead with virtually their only chance in the first half as Malian international Sammy Traore rose above the AEK defense to head home David Hellebuyck’s corner on the stroke of halftime. Indeed, the visitors had been fortunate not to be sleeping seven minutes earlier when Julio Cesar’s thundering effort beat Mickael Landreau but cannoned off the crossbar. Bernard Mendy scored PSG’s second goal four minutes from the end with a superb individual effort as he broke in from the right and unleashed an unstoppable shot with his left foot. The return leg is scheduled for February 22. (Kathimerini/AFP)