AEK demolished Romanian minnows Vaslui 3-0 at OAKA on Friday morning with a 20 minute goal scoring spree which won the game and sealed a 4-2 aggregate victory in the Europa League play-off round.
Despite trailing 2-1 after the first leg, two goals to Nacho Scocco and the opener from Gustavo Manduca in the second half gave AEK a much deserved victory before some 45,000 fans in Athens and passage into the Europa League Group Stage.
They will be joined by Panathinaikos who were dumped from the Champions League in the play-off round.
AEK 3 – Vaslui (ROM) 0; AEK wins 4-2 on agg.
AEK fans endured a goalless and frustrating first half, as Vaslui seemed content to practically camp in their defensive half.
The Romanians needed a 0-0 draw to progress to the Group Stage of the Europa League, but AEK had other ideas.
Manduca broke the deadlock in the second half after neatly running on to a cross from new summer signing Carlos Araujo, and with a thumping header gave AEK the lead on 59 minutes.
Vaslui came close to a stunning equalizer, but a stunning save from goalkeeper Sebastian Saja tipped the ball around the post for a corner.
An acrobatic Ismael Blanco clearance from the resultant corner brought AEK face-to-face with qualification as Scocco ran the length of AEK’s attacking half, shrugging off the challenge of a defender to create a one-on-one chance with the Vaslui custodian.
Rather than rounding the advancing keeper or blasting around him, Scocco perfectly scooped the ball over him and it bounced into the goal for AEK’s second of the night.
Any chance of a Vaslui revival was immediately dispelled when the Argentine collected a pass from Araujo just outside the area before taking a few steps and smashing the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net to make the score 3-0.
Heerenveen (NED) 0 – PAOK 0; 1-1 on agg. Heerenveen wins on away goals rule.
PAOK meanwhile was eliminated from Europe for 2009/10 after being held to a 0-0 draw by Dutch side Heerenveen.
The Dutch progressed on the away goals rule after achieving a 1-1 draw in Thessaloniki when the two sides met in the first leg.
Former Olympiakos coach Trond Sollied masterminded Heerenveen’s qualification, while PAOK manager Fernando Santos rued his side’s missed opportunities.
Opting for a 4-4-2 formation, PAOK’s first chance of the match ironically fell to defender Bruno Cirillo, whose long range effort in the 12th minute failed to trouble Heerenveen’s goalkeeper.
By the 20th minute, PAOK began to find their rhythm and Vlantan Ivic went close in the 29th minute while Fotakis managed to force Heerenveen’s custodian into a save seven minutes later from a difficult angle, but the Macedonian side could not break the deadlock.
Despite Santos changing to a more attacking formation (4-3-3) and good attempts by Ivic (52’) and Lino (57’), the score remained at 0-0 and PAOK were knocked out on the away goals rule.
Santos blamed missed chance, suggesting, “We paid the price from missed chances in today’s first half. Our European inexperience cost us.”
Europa League Group Stage Draw
AEK will meet English Premier League side Everton, Portuguese giants Benfica and Belarus outfit BATE Borisov in the group stage, after being drawn into Group I.
The draw is a tough one for AEK, with Everton and Benfica undoubtedly the favourites for progression. BATE, who played in last season’s Champions League, are also a strong opponent.
“The draw could have been better but we have to do the best we can,” said AEK coach Dusan Bajevic. “Benfica and Everton are both strong teams but BATE Borisov is an unknown quantity.”
David Moyes, Everton manager said of the draw, “I’m happy enough with the draw and I’m pleased to be in it. Going to Athens is a longer journey than you’d probably like, but it’s a couple of nice places for the supporters to go and see and a couple of good games for us all so we’re looking forward to it.”
Panathinaikos were drawn alongside Turks Galatasaray Dynamo Bucharest of Romania and Sturm Graz of Austria.
“The group leaves us many possibilities [to qualify],” said PAO coach Henk ten Cate. “We will be aiming to finish first in the group.”
Franco Foda, Sturm Graz coach said, “Anything is possible. Galatasaray and Panathinaikos have been playing in the Champions League for years now – if they aren’t attractive opponents, who are? We went through against Kharkiv so I’m optimistic we will pick up points.”
Games will be played on 17 September, 1 and 22 October, 5 November, 2/3, and 16/17 December.
Where possible, teams from the same association will kick off at different times and, on Matchdays 5 and 6, on separate days.
In the Round of 32 and Round of 16 draws in Nyon on 18 December, the top two sides from each section will be joined by the eight teams which finish third in their UEFA Champions League group.