Greens down AEK 2-0

Panathinaikos needed only one point in the soccer playoff decider on Sunday but managed to defeat AEK 2-0 away from home and will return to the Champions League qualifiers this summer. The Greens were the better team on Sunday for most of the match played in front of some 35,000 AEK fans, but could have been trailing after just 10 minutes when the league’s top scorer Ismael Blanco hit the woodwork at close range. The most important player in the Panathinaikos squad, despite the presence of Brazilian World Cup winner Gilberto Silva, is undoubtedly Giorgos Karagounis. The Greece midfielder was once again the most influential player in the game, earning a penalty in the 30th minute after being brought down by AEK keeper Sebastian Saja. Karagounis got up, took the kick and put Panathinaikos ahead, meaning AEK would need two goals to take top spot on the last day of the playoffs. It was not meant to be. Five minutes later Karagounis picked out Croatian striker Ante Rukavina in the box. The latter made no mistake from seven meters out and put the tie beyond AEK. In the second half AEK proved unable to stage a comeback as Panathinaikos was determined not to relinquish its lead. The 2-0 result meant that Panathinaikos finished top of the playoff mini-league with 18 points and second overall in the Super League and will join Olympiakos in the third qualifying round of the Champions League as of July 28. AEK ended up six points behind Panathinaikos and along with PAOK (with six points) and Larissa (with just one point) will represent Greece in the Europa League. AEK’s troubles stretch far beyond Sunday’s loss. Financial problems have created internal strife, with technical director Stelios Manolas telling the players yesterday that he intends to quit, while coach Dusan Bajevic said after Sunday’s match that unless there is a sign that things will change he too will resign. In Thessaloniki, PAOK is adding Panionios keeper Dario Kresic and Aris striker Thanassis Papazoglou to its roster for next season, it announced yesterday.