AEK Athens FC drew their seventh successive UEFA Champions League game after coming from a goal down against RC Deportivo La Coruña at the Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium. An 85th-minute strike from the outstanding Vassilios Tsiartas shared the points after Walter Pandiani had given the visitors a 12th-minute lead.
Javier Irureta fielded an attacking side, playing Juan Valerón, Víctor Sánchez and Alberto Luque in midfield. He surprisingly opted to leave the Spanish international forward Diego Tristán on the bench though, preferring Uruguayan striker Pandiani.
The visitors dominated the first half, playing a swift passing game that left AEK chasing shadows. On 12 minutes, Irureta's faith in Pandiani was justified. A Víctor corner from the left was whipped in to the near post, where Pandiani thumped a header past the stranded Dionisios Chiotis in the AEK goal.
Four minutes later, Chiotis was involved again, scrambling Luque's cross-shot clear with his legs. Deportivo, with Valerón showing his class in the playmaking role, looked like running riot. However, AEK coach Dusan Bajevic urged his players to settle down and they began to defend with real conviction.
Fleet-footed Cypriot striker Yiannis Okkas started troubling Deportivo in a series of counterattacks, and only some expert defending from Jorge Andrade and Nourredine Naybet prevented him from finding any clear-cut opportunities. Luque, playing wide on the left, found space on 38 minutes, but shot tamely at Chiotis – the last real effort before half-time. Bajevic obviously managed to get through to his players during the break, as they came out a different side in the second half.
Deportivo had the first chance, however, as full-back Héctor Berenguel hit a swerving, dipping drive from 30 metres that landed on the roof of the net on 49 minutes. Three minutes later and an unmarked Nikos Lyberopoulos attempted a volley from the edge of the box, but it came off his shin.
Lyberopoulos, who had been quiet in the first half, was suddenly everywhere, and he was unlucky with a header eight metres out from Vassilios Borbokis's cross. If Lyberopoulos was playing well, then Tsiartas was superb. The AEK playmaker saw two long-range efforts go narrowly wide, and was finding his team-mates with a range of delightful passes.
Indeed, it was a Tsiartas cross which seemed to have brought about an equaliser. Hitting the ball with the outside of his boot from the left, he expertly found Okkas, who, with the goal at his mercy, headed straight at the goalkeeper.
No clear chances
It seemed Deportivo had been reprieved. When substitute Ilija Ivic hooked the ball around Deportivo goalkeeper José Molina and into the side-netting with just nine minutes to go, the result looked certain. AEK threw men forward in increasing numbers, but could not carve out the clear chance they needed.
Then Dimitrios Nalitzis, another substitute, held off two challenges in the box and fed Tsiartas. The man of the moment did not hesitate, sliding a low driven shot underneath Molina's body and into the back of the net. A share of the spoils again for AEK, who went out at the first group stage last season despite being undefeated, but for Bajevic’s side this draw must have felt like a victory.