AEK humbled by Trabzonspor in Athens
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE - PLAY OFFS (LEG 1)
AEK’s hopes of reaching the UEFA Europa League group stage suffered a major setback on Thursday after they were soundly beaten 3-1 by Trabzonspor in the first leg of their payoff clash in Athens.
A hat-trick from the superb Caleb Ekuban, who gave a lesson in finishing, saw the Turkish club come from a goal behind to conquer a poor AEK side at the Olympic stadium and seriously dent their aims of qualifying.
Miguel Cardoso’s AEK side were slightly better than they were against Universitatea Craiova last week, with Marko Livaja opening the scoring early on, but overall Miguel Cardoso’s team did not have the quality to deal with their Turkish opponents.
AEK now have a mammoth task on their hands in next week’s return leg in Turkey, after which the winners of the tie will enter the group stage draw on August 30.
This clash represented a step up in class for AEK, who eventually disposed of Romanian outfit Universitatea Craiova, but the manner of the 3-1 aggregate victory sent alarm bells ringing with AEK producing some below par football.
AEK, who were clearly keen to show their attacking intent from the first whistle, began brightly and got a dream start when Livaja opened the scoring after just four minutes. The Croatian forward met Hélder Lopes cross after a well-worked move to score with a clinical finish.
The goal sparked a strong reaction from Trabzonspor, and they were handed a way back into the match by match referee Daniel Siebert, who awarded a very questionable penalty when Filip Novák fell over Ognen Vranjes’ leg. Thankfully for the home side, captain Jose Sosa blasted his spot-kick off the crossbar and the ball bounced to safety.
Despite that miss, the visitors continued undeterred in their efforts to find an equaliser, and after a spell of pressure they levelled the match in the 28th minute through Ekuban. Nigerian striker Anthony Nwakaeme nodded on a corner from the right, and the ball ricocheted off Novak and fell kindly for Ekuban, who hammered the ball past Barkas.
That goal gave the Turkish visitors even more confidence and they had AEK on the backfoot for the remainder of the half, putting pressure on the Kitrinomavri’s backline.
Sure enough, the pressure finally told as AEK were dealt another blow a minute before half-time when the visitors moved in front for the first time in the match.
The goal came from another corner, with Simoes unable to beat Ekuban in the air resulting in the latter directing a header past a hapless Barkas, who had not come off his line to try and collect the flag-kick.
After the half-time break AEK regained their shape and set about trying to find an equaliser, but instead they were caught out defensively again in the 70th minute on the counter attack, with the visitors making it look so easy to score.
Made progress down the left flank before slipping the ball inside to Abdülkadir Ömür, who then squared for Ekuban. The Ghanaian then took a touch before sending a clinical, low diagonal shot across Varkas and into the net.
That goal was a real sucker punch for the AEK players, and the home side struggled to find a way to recover. Substitute Geraldes had a great chance to pull a goal back for the hosts after 77 minutes, but the Portuguese forward was thwarted by visiting keeper Uğurcan Çakır.
AEK: 1 Barkas (GK), 3 Hélder Lopes, 5 Nélson Oliveira, 7 Verde, 8 André Simões, 10 Livaja, 20 Mantalos ©, 21 Vranješ, 22 Simão, 24 Svarnas, 27 Paulinho
Trabzonspor: 1 Uğurcan Çakır (GK), 4 Türkmen, 5 Hosseini, 8 Sosa ©, 9 Nwakaeme, 10 Abdülkadir Ömür, 11 Sørloth, 18 Ekuban, 47 João Pereira, 61 Parmak, 77 Novák