Australian Nathan Burns was again one of AEK FC’s brightest stars as the Athens side wrapped up the Sydney Festival of Football with a 1-0 win of Scottish champions Rangers FC.
AEK will pocket a reported 100,000 euros bonus for winning the tournament as fans of the Greek giant celebrated in characteristic fashion – non-stop singing for 90 minutes.
Rangers looked to be the better of the two sides for much of the game, although AEK had the better of the clear cut chances and should have wrapped up the match by two or even three goals through Algerian Raffik Djebbour in the second half.
But it was the 72nd minute goal from substitute Burns who stole the headlines as the Australian and Greek media alike praised the 22 year-old for not only a great performance but a wonderful tournament overall.
AEK went undefeated throughout the friendly tournament, sending a strong warning shot to the Greek Super League and specifically, Burns’ former side Kerkyra FC who lie in wait in Round One on the 28th or 29th of August.
It was AEK who came close in the 11th minute when a 25 yard Nikos Liberopoulos free-kick almost curled inside the post. Looking to add to his tally of two goals at the tournament, Liberopoulos again came agonisingly close from long range moments later.
Rangers hit back hard and in the 28th minute defender Steven Whittaker crossed for striker Kenny Miller who was inches away from connecting six yards out.
Lee McCulloch could have given his side the lead with a shot from distance but AEK’s Sebastian Saja made a great save.
In the 42nd minute Madjid Bougherra squandered Ranger’s best chance of the game, after the Algerian headed just wide with the goal at his mercy.
Moments later Bougherra blasted over from close range when he should have opened the scoring.
Rangers began the second half just as they ended it, but the Glasgow side was made to pay for their missed chances when Karabelas crossed from the left for Burns to put the Greeks ahead.
In the 77th minute AEK should have doubled their lead but Djebbour lost his one-on-one duel with Alan McGregor in the Rangers goal.
Burns, had also played a part in both goals in AEK’s 2-1 win over English Premier League side Blackburn on Wednesday, sent a strong message to his manager Dusan Bajevic, with regards to his 2010/11 AEK future.
Burns’ immediate future would be decided when the squad returned to Athens, Bajevic said on Wednesday, but Burns himself said he fully expected to remain with the first team for the coming season.
“I rate myself as playing in this team this year,” Burns said.
“I back myself and I want to give myself as big an opportunity as I can to play in this team.
“I don’t think I’ve done any harm (tonight), scoring the goal was good, you always want to see goal from strikers and attacking players.
“I am satisfied with the goal. It is good to score any type of goal. If it’s a tap-in it’s a nice goal too. They are all the same,” he told reporters.
“Maybe people know about this more than I do but I have a contract for two more years.
“Obviously I’m trying to impress the coach because I want to be in the starting line-up.
“But I don’t think I’m fighting for a position in the squad. I think the coach is happy to have me here and I have no intention of leaving. I don’t know where these stories are coming from.”
Blackburn Rovers midfielder Brett Emerton, who scored a goal of his own against Sydney FC, paid tribute to Burns.
“I didn’t see Nathan’s goal today but I thought he played particularly well against us the other night.
“It’s good to see another young Aussie player doing well in Europe. Hopefully he’ll start pushing his way into the national team.”