Mustafa Sarp prompted Gilberto to put through his own net as Galatasaray AS completed a UEFA Europa League double over Panathinaikos FC and guaranteed themselves a seeded place in the round of 32 draw as Group F winners.
Already sure of a place in the next round going into Matchday 5, Frank Rijkaard’s side recovered from having an early strike ruled out for offside as Sarp made the breakthrough early in the second half.
That goal proved to be enough for the coach to overcome his old FC Barcelona assistant Henk ten Cate for a second time, with the Istanbul side having beaten Panathinaikos 4-1 in Athens on Matchday 1.
With both sides wrestling for control, the first half was dominated by midfield exchanges, though the home crowd at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium were frustrated as Sarp found the net in the opening minutes only for his effort to be chalked off.
Home goalkeeper Leo Franco later had to be alert to keep a Djibril Cisse effort out, while Panathinaikos’s Alexandros Tzorvas produced a fine save to deny Harry Kewell two minutes before the interval.
Five minutes after the break, Galatasaray took the lead. Arda Turan’s slick ball from the right found Mehmet Topal who headed the ball down for Sarp.
Facing a pack of Panathinaikos defenders, the 29-year-old managed to thread a shot through defender Josu Sarriegi’s legs which was then deflected into the net off the unfortunate Gilberto.
Galatasaray looked to add to their lead, and Shabani Nonda and substitute Kader Keita passed up further chances, though the Greens created some late pressure, with Leo Franco twice called upon to keep out free-kicks by Nikos Spiropoulos.
Gilberto admitted that Panathinaikos FC were “worried about the last game” after his own goal condemned the Greens to a 1-0 loss at Galatasaray AS to set up a tricky Matchday 6 encounter.
Henk Ten Cate’s side’s defeat, coupled with a win for ten-man FC Dinamo 1948 Bucuresti at home against SK Sturm Graz, means the Romanian side can eliminate Panathinaikos with a win in Athens in their final Group F encounter.
The 33-year-old Gilberto could hardly be blamed for the goal in Istanbul on Thursday, which owed much to Mustafa Sarp’s opportunism, but knew the burden on his side was big as he looked ahead.
“We are not happy with the result,” he said. “We missed a chance to get a good result. We are worried about the last match because Dinamo won, but if we do the job in the right way we can win. Our only aim is to qualify to the next stage. This is the most important thing for us now. Tonight we played quite well but once again we go home without points. It’s not because we played badly, we just have to be more accurate in front of goal.”
Midfield colleague Simao was eager for Panathinaikos to put the defeat in Istanbul – their second against Galatasaray in Group F – behind them as quickly as possible, and was reluctant to stew over the result.
“The past is the past,” said the 21-year-old from Mozambique. “The game is over. It’s football; these things can happen. We now have to concentrate on our next games and work hard to make things happen and get the results that we need. The only way to feel better is to work harder.”
Galatasaray, meanwhile, are assured of finishing top of the section, and will go into the round of 32 draw on 18 December as one of the seeded sides.
“We played very well tonight as a team,” said Servet Cetin. “We have to play like we did tonight in every game. We can be successful if we show that team spirit. We attacked and defended together and had no problems during the game. We are very proud to top the group. Panathinaikos are strong, but our aim was to get three points.”