Wins bolster UEFA Cup hopes for Panathinaikos and AEK

Athens clubs Panathinaikos and AEK bolstered their UEFA Cup campaigns Wednesday night with wins in their respective group games. Panathinaikos, on a perfect record after three games in Group B, remained the front-runner with a 2-0 win against visiting Lokomotiv Moscow, now eliminated. Already through to the competition’s round of 32, the Athens club will clinch the group’s top spot if it manages to avoid defeat in its fourth and final game at Atletico Madrid on December 20, and subsequently avoid meeting ousted Champions League teams in the UEFA Cup’s next stage. The top three teams from each of the UEFA Cup’s eight groups will be joined by all third-placed teams from the Champions League’s eight groups. The pool of 32 teams will be drawn into home-and-away knockout ties all the way to the UEFA Cup final. Panathinaikos striker Dimitris Salpigidis scored twice within four minutes late in the game. He opened the scoring 20 minutes from time with a powerful shot from the edge of the box and then headed in a precise cross from Loukas Vintra for his second goal and Panathinaikos’s 2-0 win AEK’s 1-0 win at Mlada Boleslav, courtesy of a strike from Tamandani Nsaliwa just seconds into the second half, strengthened the Athens team’s standing in Group C. AEK and Fiorentina share second place with five points from three games, two points ahead of Mlada Boleslav. An away draw against group front-runner Villareal in their final group game will assure AEK its place among the last 32 irrespective of other results. At Mlada Boleslav, AEK dominated play in the first half but failed to score. The Athens club also overshadowed the hosts for the second half’s majority with Brazilian star Rivaldo in the central role. Mlada Boleslav reacted quickly to AEK’s goal, but a strike from Jan Rajnocj just cleared the bar. Earlier in the game, the hosts almost took the lead when a Marek Matejovsky cross found the unmarked Jan Kysela. But he headed straight at AEK’s keeper. Two more Greek clubs through to the UEFA Cup group stage – of five in total – were due to play late last night. Aris, second in Group F, was at home to Braga. Panionios, second to last in Group H and needing points, was due to meet Austria Wien, the group’s bottom side.