Close but no cigar
AGONAsport’s AEK’s contributor, Greg Gavalas, talks about AEK’s recent form in Greece and Europe after a challenging group of matches.
It has been a busy and challenging few games for the raining Greek Champions, AEK Athens. The return to the World's Premier club tournament has produced some inspiring moments but nothing to show for it, while derbies with PAOK and Olympiacos have been similar with decent performances. With a last gasp equalizer at home to the Reds of Piraeus, it was AEK’s most meaning full point in all this mix.
The Champions League mixer has seen AEK came away with 2 losses from as many games, first up away to Ajax Amsterdam and then at home to Benfica. With the opponents themselves tough enough challenges, matters were worse as AEK went into the matches without the suspended Marko Livaja, Helder Lopes, and Tassos Bakasetas.
The lack of transfers in the off season have also put AEK in a tough position. Going into such a tournament with a lesser team than that of last season, players like Vasilis Bakakis, Rodrigo Galo, and Lopez (before his injury), who are normally wing backs, are playing as wingers in the upper part of the field as a result.
AEK put up a decent fight in the first half away to Ajax and even missed the best chance with Andreas Simoes sending a good header just wide. In the second half, AEK were outclassed and went down 3-0 with only Petros Mantalos looking dangerous in attack.
Come the match with Benfica at OAKA and the hope for something was there. AEK were coming off a 2-0 loss to PAOK in Thessaloniki, in a game where the score line probably flatters the home team. For the most part, AEK were better, but football is all about scoring goals and despite the chances created, it was PAOK that scored two goals with Aleksandar Prijovic to take a big win.
You cannot feel baffled with the decision to not buy a quality striker for the Dikefalo from Athens by management. What is more baffling is the news that recently came out, that AEK refused to match the offer for PAS Giannina’s prolific Spanish striker, Pedro Conde, after qualifying for the Champions League (huge influx of income). AEK refused to pay €900,000 for a striker that has scored 27 goals in 51 matches at PAS. Conde is now in the UAE having scored 4 goals in 4 games for his new club, Baniyas.
In the match with Benfica, AEK came out sleeping and were down 2-0 after 15 minutes. A late first half red card for the Portuguese saw AEK come out on fire in the second half and with Viktor Klonaridis back to his best, it was 2-2 just 17 minutes into the second half. AEK were in complete control and then Mantalos put Klonaridis through with the keeper and Giorgos Giakoumakis to his left... he just had to square the ball to the Cretan striker, who would have had an open net to make it 3-2 in favor of AEK... but Viktor took the shot himself and Benfica’s Greek/German keeper, Odisseas Vlachodimos got a touch to the ball to deny the AEK man. Players, fans at the stadium, the coaching staff, and the many watching the match around the globe, could not believe what they saw.
In the moment of disbelief, like that was not bad enough, Benfica’s Alfa Semedo practically ran through the AEK team and slotted a rolling shot outside the box past AEK keeper, Vasilis Barkas. It was enough to make you want to throw your coffee mug through the television (for those watching in Australia).
AEK tried to get back into the game, but to no avail. It was another disappointing defeat, but this one hurt the most, not only because of the way the game was lost when it should have been won, but the scary part is now, in what game does AEK get some points from? Coming up, it doesn't get easier as German giants, Bayern Munich, await, first in Athens and then in Munich.
Putting the heartbreak aside, the Dikefalo then had Olympiacos come to town and with them, former AEK hero, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos. The former AEK man was one of a few key players that left the reigning champions at the end of last season, but the most controversial by far.
It was a well-balanced game with AEK creating chances and Olympiacos looking more flowy with the ball at their feet. It took a wonder goal from Kostas Fortounis to put the visitors ahead in the second half. AEK, who were without key players including Mantalos, did not give up and an onslaught in the last 5 minutes produced a great headed equalizer from Bakasetas, giving the AEK fans something to finally cheer about.
All in all, the results are what most AEK fans foresaw given the roster, but there is plenty of hope for the future IF the injuries stop. I say IF because injuries have been terrible this season as Christos Almpanis, Lucas Boye, Ezequiel Ponce, Mantalos, Dmytro Chygrynskiy, Klonaridis, Galo, Marios Oikonomou, Alef, and Lopez have all experienced injuries. That is ten players in a squad that was never refilled after the core players left following the historic 12th Championship last season.
Coach Marino Ouzounidis has had his critics, especially with substitutions coming on too late to change games, however, many games have been compromised with injuries.
To close, it would be interesting to see an AEK team with less injuries. The team is playing decent football and a pickup in form by Simoes and Kostas Galanopoulos in the middle, will help the squad. We await with interest on how the defending champions close out the 2018 calendar year.
by Greg Gavalas
Image Source: to10.gr