Panathinaikos FC 2-2 Real Madrid CF
Panathinaikos FC reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League after a 2-2 draw against Real Madrid CF on Wednesday.
A superb display
The crowd at the Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium rose to meet coach Sergio Markarian's side as they earned a place in the last eight after a genuinely superb game against Group C winners Madrid. For long periods of the game, the Ethniki Katigoria side threatened to totally overwhelm Vicente del Bosque's young Madrid side but in the end, the fringe players who travelled to Athens proved they had enough class to hold their hosts.
In the early stages, it looked like Madrid would cave in entirely as Panathinaikos set about their task with incredible passion and the Madrid defence, which included teenagers Raúl Bravo and Rubén González Rocha, looked ill prepared for their task. Just three minutes into the game Iker Casillas was forced to make an excellent save from Jan Michaelsen as Panathinaikos poured forward in search of an early goal, and they took the lead just six minutes later.
Georgios Seitaridis' cross from the right was headed clear by a Madrid defender, but only as far as Nikos Liberopoulos who smashed the ball past Casillas from the edge of the penalty area.
At this stage, it looked like Madrid would collapse altogether, but instead they equalised just two minutes later. Absolute silence greeted their goal as Steve McManaman's left-wing cross found Fernando Morientes unmarked in the penalty area and he had the simple task of heading over Antonios Nikopolidis to make it 1-1.
In fairness, the goal did little to dampen the home side's spirits and Casillas was called into action again after 14 minutes to deflect Michael Konstantinou's toe-poke from a through-ball to safety. He did even better to deny Michaelsen again after 25 minutes as he clawed another fierce long-range shot to safety, and the goalkeeper repeated the same feat in controversial style after 36 minutes.
Michaelsen received the ball inside the penalty area and appeared to take the ball around the goalkeeper before tripping and screwing his shot wide of Casillas' right-hand post. The goalkeeper will claim it as a save but Panathinaikos thought it was a penalty kick.
However, as half-time approached, it was Panathinaikos who were living dangerously. Firstly Geremi's angled drive from a free-kick in the final minute of normal time just cleared the crossbar. A minute later, Albert Celades's cross was cheekily back-heeled towards goal by Morientes but Nikopolidis did well to save.
Madrid take charge
The second half began at the same relentless pace as the first, but as the minutes ticked by and Panathinaikos began to tire, Madrid began to stamp their authority on the game. Slick passing in midfield saw them deny their opponents possession for long spells in the second half and it was a total surprise when Panathinaikos snatched the lead again.
This time, Madrid failed to deal with a free-kick from the edge of their penalty area. Giorgios Karagounis flicked the ball across and Ioannis Goumas lost his marker and headed firmly past Casillas to send the crowd in Athens into rapture. Once more, the home side rediscovered their aggression and it was only a superb flying save from Casillas after 71 minutes that stopped them taking a 3-1 lead. As the ball bobbled clear from a corner, Michaelsen struck a stinging shot from 25 metres which Casillas acrobatically pushed around his left-hand post.
It was a superb shot, but perhaps no as good as the one that earned Madrid their share of the points nine minutes later. Teenager Javier Garcia Portillo, who had been brought on as a substitute for Morientes 20 minutes earlier, marked his Champions League debut with a terrific strike. With the Panathinaikos defence retreating before him, young Garcia Portillo smashed an unstoppable 25-metre shot which flew past Nikopolidis' outstretched left hand and into the net.
A happy ending
It was a goal worthy of settling any game, and with news filtering through that Panathinaikos' only contenders for the runners-up spot in Group C, FC Porto, were losing 2-0 at AC Sparta Praha, that was how it proved. As the final whistle blew, Madrid were pushing for a winning goal, but this was a game that neither side deserved to lose. Both sides are now in the quarter-finals and on this evidence, they will grace the final stage of the Champions League.