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VfB Stuttgart moved to the top of UEFA Champions League Group E with a comprehensive victory against Panathinaikos FC at the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion.
First-half goals from Imre Szabics and Zvonimir Soldo did the damage as the German side replaced Rangers FC at the top, level on six points with Manchester United FC after their 1-0 win at Ibrox.
Riding high in the Bundesliga and buoyed by their Matchday 2 victory against the English champions, Stuttgart were further boosted by the news that their influential captain, Zvonimir Soldo, had overcome a calf injury to start, allowing coach Felix Magath to field the same side that had overcome United three weeks previously.
Heldt comes close
Stuttgart picked up from where they had left off that night, producing some wonderful flowing football to put Panathinaikos on the back foot from the start. With the full-backs Andreas Hinkel and Philipp Lahm always looking to push forward, Stuttgart pressed the visiting side deep into their own half and created their first chance on 12 minutes when Horst Heldt's stinging drive was turned away by Antonios Nikopolidis.
Stuttgart's ceaseless probing was made to count just a minute later. Lahm crossed from the left and Szabics rose to head in from close range.
Injuries to Sotirios Kirgiakos and Emmanuel Olisadebe and the suspension of Ioannis Goumas - sent off in the 1-1 draw with Rangers on Matchday 2 - forced Panathinaikos coach Itzhak Shum to ring the changes in a bid to kickstart his side's campaign. But they had little impact on Stuttgart and with Dimitrios Papadopoulos running the line alone up front, the visitiors were rarely able to hold the ball up for long.
Warning was served on 21 minutes when Marcelo Bordon's powerful strike curled narrowly wide, and a second goal was not long coming. On 25 minutes Horst Heldt crossed from the right and Soldo rose at the near post to head in with Nikopolidis rooted to his line.
Stuttgart took their foot off the pedal after the second goal and Panathinaikos were given some room to come forward, but their only attempt on goal was Raimondas Zutautas's long-range strike on 31 minutes that Timo Hildebrand gathered easily.
At the break, Shum swapped Dimitrios Papadopoulos, the victim of a nasty challenge from behind by Fernando Meira late in the first half, for Michalis Konstantinou, who soon made his presence known to Hildebrand, though again the keeper had little difficulty in collecting his 48th-minute shot.
Szabics comes close
Panathinaikos began to enjoy more of the ball, but the better chances were still falling to the German side. On 56 minutes a loose ball in the box fell to Szabics who stabbed it straight at Nikopolidis. At the other end, Panagiotis Fyssas jinked past two men before shooting narrowly over.
Stuttgart in control
Stuttgart were well in control, however, and ready to up the tempo when the opening presented itself. Lahm, who had already impressed with his crossing to set up Szabics's goal, then thrilled the capacity crowd with a lovely run down the left, the 19-year-old weaving past two men before Giourkas Seitaridis stopped him on the by-line with a terrific sliding tackle.
To Panathinaikos's credit they competed to the end, Angelos Basinas bringing out a good save from Hildebrand with a 79th-minute strike. But Stuttgart were never in any danger as they held off the Greek side, still bottom with just one point from three games, to work their way to the top of Group E.
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