AEK, Real Madrid draw 3-3 in spectacular, open game

AEK missed a chance on Wednesday to defeat Champions League title-holder and heavy favorite Real Madrid for the second time in its history, allowing the Spaniards to fight back from a 3-1 deficit in the first half hour of the game and snatch a 3-3 draw. After three rounds of play, Real leads Group C of the Champions League with seven points. Roma, which snatched a 1-0 away win against Genk, is second with four points, ahead of AEK (three points) and Genk (one). The two best teams will qualify for the second stage of the competition. After two straight scoreless deadlocks, AEK took an early 1-0 advantage in the sixth minute, when midfielder Vassilis Tsartas, who once played in the Spanish League with Seville, blasted home a free kick from just outside the penalty area. Tsartas cleverly lifted the ball above the Real Madrid wall and past goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who dived late. Ironically, Tsartas scored on his second attempt as his first try, which hit the crossbar, was disallowed when referee Yordan Ivanov ruled that the Greek player had taken the kick too quickly. The Bulgarian official even gave Tsartas a yellow card for his transgression. The free kick was set up when Real Madrid defender Roberto Carlos tripped up a charging Vassilis Lakis. Real leveled in the 15th minute. Guti seized on an error by AEK’s Costa Rican international defender Mauricio Wright, to feed the ball to Raul; he, in turn, passed to French international Zinedine Zidane, who swiftly shot past Greek goalie Dionysis Chiotis. In the 25th minute, AEK retook the lead 2-1 as Tsartas sent a perfect, curving corner kick to Christos Maladenis, who had substituted for the injured Milen Petkov 10 minutes earlier. Maladenis outjumped the Real defenders and headed the ball past Casillas. Three minutes later, AEK made it 3-1, when Demis Nikolaidis took a deep Tsartas pass and back-headed the ball into the net from up close. Real Madrid fought back; Luis Figo took a corner and Raul’s header found an unmarked Zidane, who made it 3-2 with a volley. Zidane nearly tied the score just before halftime, but his attempt was punched away by Chiotis. Raul hit the crossbar in the 52nd minute and seconds later Nikolaidis narrowly missed putting the Greeks 4-2 up when his one-on-one challenge against Casillas ended with the ball just wide of the left post. Real Madrid finally rescued a point on the hour when Guti took a cross from the left by Roberto Carlos and let fly past Chiotis. AEK missed a spectacular chance in the final minutes, when Maladenis tried a long-range lob, with Casillas stranded several meters out of his posts. The shot was mishit, however, and sailed high above the crossbar. After the match, Real Madrid coach Vicente Del Bosque acclaimed what he described as a beautiful game. «It was a beautiful spectacle, there were a lot of chances… We dominated the game but AEK had the superior attack,» said Del Bosque. «It was an open game; we gave them the space and the game could have finished 7-5,» he added. AEK coach Dusan Bajevic echoed Del Bosque’s assessment but bemoaned missed chances that could cost his side a place in the next phase. He dedicated the draw to club owner Makis Psomiadis who was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Tuesday on fraud charges. «This one is for our president who is going through difficult times at the moment,» he said. (Combined reports)