By Paris Ayiomamitis at the Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium
Panathinaikos FC began their UEFA Champions League campaign in style as a goal in each half from Ezequiel González secured victory over their Group E rivals Rosenborg BK.
The home side were made to work hard by a lively Rosenborg team and relied on the brilliance of González, whose superb volley at the end of the first-half and another powerful shot eleven minutes from time secured Panathinaikos their first three points. Frode Johnsen narrowed the gap in the final minute.
Panathinaikos coach Itzhak Shum opted for an attacking formation in this his side's first match of the season, introducing new signings Dumitru Mitu and Rudolph Skacel in midfield to add more momentum to the attacking pair of Michalis Konstantinou and Dimitrios Papadopoulos. His only absentees were midfield player Lucian Sanmartean and striker Emmanuel Olisadebe.
Rosenborg coach Ola By Rise was happy to welcome back defender Vidar Riseth, midfield player Roar Strand and forward Oyvind Storflor who had all recovered from injury.
Panathinaikos got off to a strong start and in the first minute Papadopoulos, after a one-two with Konstantinou, shot narrowly wide from the edge of the area. Eager for an early goal, Panathinaikos looked dangerous in the opening stages and Papadopoulos almost scored with a close-range header from an Angelos Basinas corner.
Hit the post
The Norwegian champions were content to defend and unleash stinging counter-attacks and the first real chance fell to Rosenborg on eight minutes when Frode Johnsen’s thumping header rattled Mario Galinovic’s left post. Panathinaikos responded three minutes later when Rudolf Skacel pounced on a loose ball in the area, but his shot went straight to the goalkeeper, Espen Johnsen.
Frode Johnsen was involved in the action again on 30 minutes when he shot wide with only Galinovic to beat. Moments later it was Orjan Berg's turn to rattle Panathinaikos’ woodwork for a second time with a thumping volley, and sustained pressure looked certain to give Rosenborg the lead.
But it was Panathinaikos who opened the scoring on 43 minutes against the run of play when playmaker González unleashed a powerful left-foot volley from the edge of the penalty area to send a hitherto lukewarm crowd into a frenzy. Despite their 1-0 lead, Panathinaikos still struggled to find their stride after the interval and their forwards looked increasingly isolated.
Rosenborg pressed for an equalizer and Johnsen missed the chance of the match six minutes into the second-half, shooting wide from close range after slipping in behind the Panathinaikos defence. With Panathinaikos under renewed pressure, Shum sent on midfield player Srdan Andric on 56 minutes in place of Konstantinou in an effort to bolster his midfield.
Change pays off
Shum's move seemed to pay off as Papadopoulos began to enjoy more of the ball and the young striker almost doubled Panathinaikos’ lead when he broke free behind Rosenborg’s defence, but his final effort was a limp shot into the arms of Johnsen.
But Rosenborg were running out of ideas as Panathinaikos held on, forcing Rise to bring on Daniel Braaten for Strand on 75 minutes. González then put the match beyond the visiting side eleven minutes from time when he twisted and turned on the edge of the box before sending in a powerful shot which bounced off the crossbar and into the goal.
The home side were given a late scare when a speculative effort from Johnsen squirmed through Galinovic's hands, but they held on to secure an important victory.