Panathinaikos FC claimed their first win in the UEFA Champions League second group stage with a 2-0 away victory over AC Sparta Praha at the Letná stadium in Prague. Giorgios Karagounis and Michael Konstantinou scored a goal each either side of half-time to give new coach Sergio Markarian an impressive victory on his debut in the competition.
A goalless draw against FC Porto on Matchday Eight was followed by a 3-0 reverse against Real Madrid CF a fortnight later, but this victory will boost Panathinaikos's confidence and improve their chances of qualification for the quarter-finals. Sparta were a shadow of the team which won 1-0 in Porto in December, with Jaroslav Hrebík's side creating little to worry visiting goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis. The hosts' misery was complete when defender Tomáš Hubschman was sent off late in the game for a professional foul on Robert Jarni.
Libor Sionko looked lively for Sparta during the opening exchanges but was offered little support by Marek Kincl and Jirí Jarošik. At the other end, Konstantinou proved to be a constant thorn in Sparta's side despite ploughing a lone attacking furrow for much of the match. At 1.87m tall, the Cypriot international caused Jan Flachbart and Jirí Novotny plenty of aerial trouble but was also more than capable of holding his own on the ground.
A free-kick from Nikos Liberopoulos was deflected narrowly wide by a Sparta head in the 27th minute, before Daniel Saric's corner was glanced on by Konstantinou and Sotirios Kyrgiakos shot wide from four metres. Sparta's Slovakian midfield player Rastislav Michalík then volleyed just wide with an ambitious effort from 25 metres six minutes later.
Karagounis on target
Karagounis, fresh from scoring in Greece's 2-2 friendly international draw with Sweden last week, was busy in midfield and in the right place at the right time in the 39th minute. Liberopoulos's clever ball across the Sparta area found Karagounis in space and the 25-year-old somehow squeezed his shot under the body of goalkeeper Petr Cech from 15 metres.
A partisan crowd's prayers for an equaliser were almost answered inside the opening minute of the second half. Kyrgiakos appeared to handle the ball inside his own penalty area but the referee awarded a foul to Panathinaikos, leaving the Sparta faithful bemused. With 20 minutes remaining and all to play for, Sparta began pouring men forward in search of a goal but left gaps at the back for Panathinaikos to exploit. Konstantinou did exactly that, beating Novotny and Flachbart to a loose ball before bouncing a shot past Cech to make it 2-0 in the 71st minute.
Chances came and went at both ends in the closing stages but Sparta eventually ran out of steam and allowed Panathinaikos to run down the clock. Hubschman received his marching orders with four minutes left, by which point Hrebík's team were well beaten.