AEK roar into Europa League group stage
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE - PLAYOFFS (LEG 2)
|AEK||3 - 0||Club Brugge|
|(3 - 0)
AEK Athens clinched a place in the Europa League on Thursday following a comfortable 3-0 home win over Club Brugge at the Olympic Stadium in Athens which completed a 3-0 aggregate win overall.
A Lazaros Christodoulopoulos penalty and a double from Andre Simoes sealed a precious win which sent Manolo Jimenenz’s team into the lucrative group stages.
The elation and relief was the perfect tonic for AEK who were left reeling last month when they were eliminated from Champions League qualifying by Russian side CSKA Moscow.
The Black and Yellows now go into Friday’s Europa League draw knowing they will have more European nights like this one over the next few months and gain a much-needed financial boost in the process.
Following last week’s creditable 0-0 draw in the away leg, the impetus was on AEK to go out and get an early goal to finish off the tie quickly.
However, AEK looked unsure of themselves in the opening exchanges as they struggled to keep hold of the ball. On their part, Brugge seemed just as unsettled in what was a scrappy affair up until AEK fnally broke the deadlock in the 27th minute.
Simoes burst into the box to latch on to a through ball and was felled by Brugge goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, leaving Spanish referee Jesus Gil Manzano no option but to point to the spot.
Christodoulopoulos stepped up to stroke the resulting penalty into the bottom right corner of Horvath’s goal with the visiting keeper diving the wrong way.
That settled the nerves and AEK began to play with much more fluency, while also keeping a disappointing Brugge team at bay comfortably.
A second goal seemed inevitable, and it came in the 39th minute. Left-back Helder Lopes sent over a perfect cross for Lazaros following some neat build-up play from AEK. And when the first goalscorer’s header was tipped onto the crossbar, the ball fell kindly for Simoes, who nodded in.
Brugge came out of their shells in the second half as they tried to get back in the tie, but AEK goalkeeper Giannis Anestis was rarely called upon to deal with a goal threat as the home side held firm.
AEK added a third with Simoes prodding in his second of the night in added time to spark jubilant celebrations among the home fans.