Panathinaikos have eked a positive result in the Champions League first knock-out round after they held Spanish side Villarreal to a 1-1 draw at El Madrigal late last week despite the Spaniards controlling much of the play.
Giorgios Karagounis was the hero for PAO, when he scored an absolute rocket from well outside the box in the 59th minute. Villarreal equalised with a spot-kick some eight minutes later and PAO held on for a crucial point ahead of the return leg on March 10 in Athens.
The draw meant that Villarreal preserved their proud unbeaten record at El Madrigal in the Champions League despite surrendering a crucial away goal to the Greek visitors.
The result of this first knockout round first-leg tie could have been worse for the Spanish team, however, as they wasted a number of opportunities while continuing this season’s statistic of conceding over a goal a game in Europe.
With the Greek visitors fulfilling pre-match predictions by lining up with five at the back, the home side set their pattern early. Pushing high up the pitch as often as possible, they profited from Santi Cazorla and Ariel Ibagaza exchanging quick passes and buzzing at the PAO defence. It almost brought a goal when the two enabled Angel Lopez to send Joseba Llorente sprinting into the box but Mario Galinovic made a fine stop with his legs.
Despite dominating possession and creativity, Villarreal almost suffered a 13th-minute shock. Sole striker Vangelis Mantzios spun away from his marker to back-heel Karagounis’s corner narrowly over. At the other end Rossi was the key player, but Galinovic easily held his firm free-kick five minutes later.
Undismayed, Rossi produced a moment’s brilliance. His clever dummy of Bruno’s pass invited Llorente to flick the ball past three defenders and on for the Italian, who was only stopped from scoring by a world-class sliding tackle from Loukas Vintra. With Villarreal flying, Ibagaza curved in a free-kick which Galinovic flapped at but Sebastian Eguren headed a clear chance past the junction of bar and post.
Token Panathinaikos resistance came from Karagounis warming the gloves of Diego Lopez, before Galinovic prevented the opening goal arriving just before the break. Rossi and Ibagaza played a 30-metre one-two which resulted in the former volleying from point-blank range; the Croatian keeper made a remarkable stop. Almost immediately the same tormentors in yellow combined for Ibagaza’s raking shot to skid a hair’s-breadth past the far post.
PAO reacted by substituting Giannis Goumas, whose booking earned a second-leg suspension, and deploying the wing-backs higher up the field. Their reward came when Ibagaza was caught in possession and a rapid move spearheaded by Simao and featuring a Mantzios dummy, finished with Karagounis cracking a drive into the top-right corner.
The setback brought a response – Pires and Nihat Kahveci replacing Eguren and Llorente. Within four minutes Jakub Wawrzyniak stuck out a leg and conceded a penalty for a trip on the Frenchman. Rossi was coolness itself in sending Galinovic the wrong way for 1-1.
The equaliser was the invitation for Villarreal to lay siege to the Panathinaikos goal in the dying moments. Nihat shot centimetres wide from distance, then a powerful Rossi header almost put the seal on the forward’s excellent, if ultimately frustrating, night.