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Patience pays for Panathinaikos

Published: Wednesday 27 August 2008, 0.57CET
Panathinaikos FC 1-0 AC Sparta Praha (agg: 3-1)
Rodrigo Souza scored late on to rubber-stamp the Greens' first group-stage place since season 2005/06.
by Vassiliki Papantonopoulou
from Athens
Patience pays for Panathinaikos
Gabriel Rodrigues dos Santos celebrates with Rodrigo Souza ©Getty Images
Published: Wednesday 27 August 2008, 0.57CET

Patience pays for Panathinaikos

Panathinaikos FC 1-0 AC Sparta Praha (agg: 3-1)
Rodrigo Souza scored late on to rubber-stamp the Greens' first group-stage place since season 2005/06.

Panathinaikos FC sealed their return to the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time in three years with a 1-0 win against AC Sparta Praha. Rodrigo Souza scored the only goal in the last minute as Henk Ten Cate's side advanced 3-1 on aggregate.

Sparta chances
Panathinaikos took control early on in Athens, but it was Sparta who should have opened the scoring on 12 minutes. Štěpán Kučera latched on to Ondrej Kušnir's flick before drawing a diving save from Mario Galinović in the Panathinaikos goal. The home team's best moment of the first half came on 32 minutes when captain Giorgos Karagounis struck the left post with a powerful right-foot shot, yet otherwise Sparta looked the more likely scorers as they strove to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit.

Kozáčík saves
Miroslav Slepička missed from close range following an excellent pass by Michal Kadlec then Patrik Berger's curling free-kick forced Galinović into another difficult stop. The tempo increased after the break when Sparta introduced a second forward in Libor Došek. Panathinaikos closed ranks in defence before Ten Cate sent on Sotiris Ninis for the last half-hour. The move almost paid off in the 73rd minute when Ninis teed up Dimitris Salpingidis who was unable to beat Matúš Kozáčík from close range. Nine minutes later Kozáčík kept out Karagounis's strike from distance.

Rodrigo winner
Sparta's clearest opportunities came and went in quick succession in the closing stages as first Došek on 87 minutes, then Miroslav Slepička, squandered invitations to score. Those attempts served as a wake-up call for Panathinaikos who finally broke the deadlock as full time approached. Substitute Gabriel Rodrigues dos Santos charged down the right and delivered a pinpoint cross to the towering Rodrigo whose header bounced down, then up into the net for his first goal for the club.

Last updated: 05/09/08 18.29CET

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