AEK Athens, who have failed to score in either of their opening games in the UEFA Champions League, almost pulled off the surprise result of the evening when they led the European champions Real Madrid CF by two goals in their Group C match at the Nikos Goumas stadium, only to end up drawing 3-3.
Madrid will return to Spain seriously concerned about the quality of some of their defending which may have been partly explained by the absence of Fernando Hierro. Madrid chose to rest their experienced central defender for this game, but otherwise they were at full strength.
AEK goals in Europe are a rare occurrence at the best of times, but to score three in the opening half against Madrid, of all people, really was something special. A draw against the European champions was nothing to be ashamed of and, for a change, a bit of good news following the 12-year jail sentence handed to their owner Chrisostomos 'Makis' Psomiadis this week for forgery.
Their free-kick specialist, Vassilios Tsartas, who was formerly with Sevilla FC, was a constant threat to the Spanish club. It was Tsartas who gave AEK a sensational start, scoring after just six minutes with a beautifully-flighted free-kick. It immediately followed a booking for the midfield player for time-wasting on the same free-kick.
It got AEK away to a flying start and steadied whatever nerves they may have had. When Zindedine Zidane equalised nine minutes later with an equally well-taken goal in Madrid's first attack of the game, the Greek supporters must have thought that normal service was about to be resumed. Taking a pass from Raúl González with the outside of his foot, he took one step forward and struck a low shot past Dionisios Chiotis into the far corner of the net.
AEK go ahead
AEK took it on the chin and just carried on attacking Madrid as they had done from the outset. After 25 minutes they were back in front. Tsartas was again involved from a dead-ball situation, this time flighting in a corner for Christos Maladenis to head in just three minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Nikolaidis on target
Three minutes later the crowd were stunned when AEK took a 3-1 lead when the unmarked Themistoklis Nikolaidis stooped to head a free-kick from Tsartas past a startled Iker Casillas.
Zidane strikes again
However, Madrid were having too much possession to be kept at arm's length for long and six minutes before half-time Zidane scored again, although this goal owed more to some lax defending than his own usual brilliance. Luis Figo's corner was nodded on at the near post by Raúl and Zidane arrived, unmarked at the back post, to volley past Chiotis.
AEK's lead, however, always looked precarious and on the hour Madrid pulled level. The cross, though, from Roberto Carlos was no doubt helped by a deflection which carried it away from the Greek side's defence. Even so, Guti should never have been allowed to steal such a march on his marker, scoring with a hooked volley.
After that both sides tired from their first-half exertions and the game made its way less eventfully to a fitting draw.