Dream start for AEK
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE (GROUP D) - MATCHDAY 1
|Rijeka||1 - 2||AEK|
Lazaros Christodoulopoulos scored the crucial winning goal as AEK Athens got their Europa League campaign off to an ideal start with a 2-1 away victory over Croatian side Rijeka on Thursday.
The Kitronmavri produced a professional and well-organized display in their opening Group D contest from the kick-off, with captain Petros Mantalos opening the scoring after 16 minutes.
A defensive lapse during a corner routine let Rijeka back into the match with the unmarked Elez volleying in to level the scores, but Christodopoulos produced a stunning free-kick to seal a deserved three-point haul for AEK.
The result is a huge boost for Manolo Jimemez’s SuperLeague leaders, who look to have put their disappointment of missing out on the Champions League firmly behind them.
For Rijeka it is another disappointment against a Greek team following their loss to Olympiacos in Champions League qualifying in the summer.
AEK went into the match on a high note having beat Larissa 4-0 at the weekend, and it took Mantalos just 16 minutes to drill the visitors ahead after Rijeka fail to clear their lines.
The home side responded in the 29th minute but it was a situation AEK should have dealt with better, Josip Elez volleying in from a Josip Mišić corner to restore parity with the visitors defence conspicuously absent.
But AEK were not to be denied and Christodoulopoulos superb free-kick two minutes after the hour mark put the Kitrinomavri back in front. AEK then hung on to claim a fifth win in six games against Croatian clubs overall, and it’s a result which means Rijeka are without a win in four European games.
Following Milan’s 5-2 mauling of Austria Vienna, AEK will now look forward to welcoming the Austrians to Athens in their next match on September 28 where they will be confident of claiming another three points.