AEK fights back to stun European champion

MADRID – Second-half goals by midfielders Costas Katsouranis and Walter Centeno earned AEK Athens a surprise 2-2 draw Tuesday night at Real Madrid in a fourth-rotation Group C Champions League match. The Greek team, which had not played for three weeks, owing to the ongoing dispute over TV rights, battled back after Steve McManaman gave the European title-holder a two-goal lead at halftime. The result means that Madrid, with eight points, must wait to clinch its berth in the last 16. AEK has four points and retains a chance of reaching the second phase. AS Roma tied Racing Genk 0-0 in the other group match. Roma has five points while Genk has two. McManaman, playing in place of the injured Luis Figo, struck in the 24th and 43rd minutes. The English international’s performance outshone Ronaldo’s European debut for Madrid, although the Brazilian had a hand in the Englishman’s second goal and had a goal disallowed after halftime. However, Katsouranis put AEK back in the game in the 74th minute and the Costa Rican substitute Centeno equalized with five minutes remaining. AEK coach Dusan Bajevic, who brought on Centeno, Ilija Ivic and Christos Maladennis in the second half, said after the match that he was delighted with his side’s comeback. «At first we experienced a lot of difficulty because we were very isolated in attack. In the second half, I introduced some faster players. We took a risk because we had nothing to lose,» Bajevic said. Madrid coach Vicente del Bosque blamed his side for lack of attention in the second half. «Our mistakes in the second half did nothing for our image. The quality of our play slipped in the second half and this, combined with AEK’s ambition, produced the draw,» he said. Madrid, which was also missing the injured Raul Gonzalez and Claude Makelele, made a slow start, though AEK’s poor passing meant that it was hardly troubled at first. The European champion’s first noteworthy effort came in the 23rd minute, when a fierce long shot by Brazilian international Roberto Carlos was tipped away by goalkeeper Dionysios Hiotis. Madrid’s opening goal arrived a minute later when McManaman side-footed home from close range after Argentine midfielder Esteban Cambiasso had centered low from the left. Two minutes before halftime, Ronaldo made his first significant contribution to the match when, after cutting in from the left, he set the onrushing McManaman free to nudge the ball home for the second goal. Ten minutes after he headed wide a corner kick from McManaman, the Brazilian striker netted from another pass by the English midfielder in the 57th minute but was flagged offside. Madrid, which replaced French star Zinedine Zidane with Argentine midfielder Santiago Solari on the hour, suffered a dramatic slump and AEK enjoyed a host of chances. Casillas was repeatedly called into action, thwarting Zagorakis, Ivic and Centeno in quick succession, although the Spanish international had no chance when his teammates allowed Katsouranis to head home a corner in the 74th minute. «That defensive slip put into doubt a match which up to then we were controlling pretty well,» del Bosque said. McManaman was replaced by the more defensive Oscar Minambres with 10 minutes remaining. Five minutes later AEK netted its surprise equalizer when Centeno scored from Ivac’s pass with Casillas stranded. Madrid hosts Roma, while AEK entertains Genk in fifth-rotation matches on October 30. (AP)