AEK Return to the UEFA Champions League
GREEK superleague playoffs - MATCHDAY 6
|Panionios||1 - 2||AEK|
AEK produced a battling display to come from a goal down and defeat Panionios 2-1 in Nea Smyrni, a result which secured top spot in the SuperLeague playoffs and saw Manolo Jimenez’s team clinch a place in the Champions League at the expense of PAOK, who lost out after slumping to a 3-2 home defeat to Panathinaikos at the Toumba.
On an incredible final night of enthralling match action in Greece’s often criticized top flight, AEK looked to be dead and buried after AEK fell behind to Giorgos Masouras’ 21st-minute goal while PAOK were already leading 1-0 at the Toumba.
But Panionios lead lasted just 13 minutes with Petros Mantalos levelling matters after a neat exchange of passes with Sergio Araujo. The diminutive Argentine forward then put AEK in front with a superb header from Astrit Ajdarević’s set-piece.
And there were jubilant scenes of celebration from the AEK players and officials as the final whistle went and news was greeted of Panathinaikos’ 3-2 win over PAOK in Salonica, with the results meaning AEK ended the playoffs in first place with 12 points, one point ahead of PAOK.
AEK will now join SuperLeague champions Olympiacos in the Champions League, joining entering the competition at the third qualifying round stage. PAOK will play in the Europa League third qualifying round.
AEK continued where they left off in their 1-0 win over PAOK last Sunday, controlling much of the possession and posing a goal threat each time they got into their opponent’s final third.
For all their enterprising play, AEK fell behind with a goal on the counter attack run of play. El Fardou Ben Nabouhane was the architect, setting up Masoura who scored with a powerful shot into the left corner of Giannis Anestis’ goal.
AEK were handed the initiative to go on and win the match after Panionios were reduced to 10 players three minutes short of the mark when Ben received his marching orders for picking up a second yellow card.
The numbers were evened up when Lazaros Christodoulopoulos was dismissed for AEK after picking up a second booking, but neither side looked like troubling the scoreboard as the visitors held firm for the three points.