Olympiakos will line-up in the 2009/10 Champions League group stage after progressing with a 3-0 aggregate victory against Moldavian minnows Sheriff FC.

Despite winning the first leg 0-2 away from home, the reds struggled to open up the visitors, but eventually won 1-0.

Greece’s lone representative will be joined by Cypriot side APOEL who claimed a 3-1 victory over Danish dynamos FC Copenhagen before a capacity crowd.

Panathinaikos was dumped from the competition after they lost their tie against Atletico Madrid 5-2 on aggregate.

Olympiakos 1 – Sheriff FC (MOL) 0;
Olympiakos wins 3-0 on agg.

A late goal by Costas Mitroglou gave reds fans a sense of relief after they seemingly struggled against their Moldavian opponents, Sheriff FC. The goal in the 82nd minute was a long time in the making, but was enough to seal Olympiakos’ qualification to the group stage of the Champions League.

They will need to show significant improvement if they are to cause any problems against Europe’s elite, feelings echoed by some of Olympiakos’ own players after their unconvincing performance.

“The most important thing for us was to qualify for the group stage, which was even more crucial than to play well,” midfielder Dudu said. “The fans were not satisfied with our performance and they are right, but we will improve and they will see a better Olympiacos in time.”

Defender Raul Bravo, agreed, suggesting; “It’s important that we are through to the group stage. Our performances will improve. It would have been catastrophic to have been eliminated. We have been preparing for two months to qualify and it was very important to do so.”

Defender Giorgos Galitsios was simply relieved his side had qualified. “Last season we failed to reach the group stage and that meant extra pressure this time round,” he said, “but our comfortable victory in the away leg at Tiraspol made it easier for us in the return. We were not good tonight, but we are not looking for excuses. The qualification was the most significant thing tonight. As the season progresses, we will improve and we are confident we will be tougher in the group stage.”

APOEL 3 – FC Copenhagen (DEN) 1;
APOEL wins 3-2 on agg.

APOEL will become only the second Cypriot side ever to appear in the group stage of the Champions League after a dramatic victory against the fancied FC Copenhagen at home.

Despite having lost the first leg 1-0 in Denmark, Kamil Kosowski stunned the visitors in only the second minute of the match after controlling the ball with his chest and rocketing the ball into the goal from close range.

Chrysostomos Michail put APOEL into the aggregate lead with a penalty in the 18th minute, but Dame N’Doye responded for the visitors, snatching a crucial away goal and reducing his side’s deficit on the night to 2-1.

Michail scored his second for the night in the 41st minute, putting APOEL ahead 3-1 in the match, as the Cypriots enjoyed a half time lead.

APOEL was forced to resist a fierce second-half onslaught by Copenhagen, who needed only one goal to progress on the away goals rule.

But with former AEK goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis in amazing form, APOEL resisted the barrage and emerged victorious.

It was only the second time in 22 European ties that APOEL had lost the first leg and progressed.

Atletico Madrid (SPA) 2 – Panathinaikos 0;
Atletico wins 5-2 on agg.

Club Atletico de Madrid advanced to the UEFA Champions League group stage with a 2-0 second-leg victory against Panathinaikos, who had a Djibril Cisse sent off late in the game.

Loukas Vintra’s own goal set the hosts on their way and Sergio Aguero’s 83rd-minute strike capped a successful night for Atletico who secured a 5-2 aggregate play-off win.

Panathinaikos will have to settle for a place in the UEFA Europa League group stage in 2009/10.

The Greek side had never won a competitive match in their ten previous visits to Spain, and that horror record continued following the 2-0 defeat.

PAO coach Henk ten Cate said after the game, “We had more attempts than they had so it was unjust that we were behind at half-time.
“I think the players gave everything and if you look at the clear chance we should have scored at least three goal. We deserved more than we got here – 100 percent. Individual mistakes, whether it’s a red card or losing the ball too easily, against opposition of this quality costs you.
“We demonstrated that we can play with teams like this without being humiliated and that we can create chances against them. The difference is luck, concentration and a little class.”