Panathinaikos FC consolidated their second place in Group C of the UEFA Champions League with a 2-1 win against AC Sparta Praha on Wednesday night.
A constant threat
Michael Konstantinou was the hero of the Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium, his goals on 15 and 47 minutes making Martin Klein's late header little more than a consolation for the visitors. Konstantinou struck first after breaking on to a chipped pass from Angelis Basinas to finish past Petr Cech. The Cypriot international had already threatened the opener when he reacted quickest to the promptings of Nikos Liberopoulos only to have the ball pick-pocketed away from him by the alert Cech. And he scored his second moments after the restart with a thumping header from Jan Michaelsen's right-wing cross.
Business and brilliance
Yet the 24-year-old was not the only difference between the sides. In Liberopoulos and Angelis Basinas, Panathinaikos coach Sergio Markarian had the necessary blend of business and brilliance, while Sotirios Kyrgiakos took the defensive honours for the home side. In fact, up until Klein's 90th-minute intervention, home goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis had made just two saves of note - both from long-range drives from Jiri Jarosik and Lukás Zelenka.
Bringing the house down
While the visitors huffed and puffed, Konstantinou threatened to bring the house down every time he got near the opposition penalty area. He glanced a header narrowly wide from Basinas's free-kick on the stroke of half-time, then passed up the chance of a hat-trick goal shortly before leaving the field to a standing ovation on 80 minutes. It was the least he deserved.
Panathinaikos moved four points clear of Sparta with this victory, making them favourites to join leaders Real Madrid CF in the quarter-finals. And who would bet against a team unbeaten in six home games in the competition?
Sparta, meanwhile, had to say goodbye to their unbeaten away record after a disappointing performance from Jaroslav Hrebík's men. Something had to give in Athens, and happily for Panathinaikos and Konstantinou, it was the Sparta defence.