A hat-trick by Vincenzo Iaquinta gave Udinese Calcio a perfect start to their debut UEFA Champions League campaign with a convincing win against Panathinaikos FC at the Friuli stadium.
The Italian international scored once in the first half and twice in the second to put Serse Cosmi's side top of Group C after one game. Cosmi made one change from the team that overcame AS Roma in Serie A on Sunday, reverting from the three-pronged attack deployed at the Stadio Olimpico to a 4-4-2 formation with midfielder Vidigal included at the expense of forward Davide Di Michele.
Panathinaikos adopted an even more cautious approach as coach Alberto Malesani sought to cope with key absences from his side. Suspension and injury had claimed the services of Dimitrios Papadopoulos, Emmanuel Olisadebe and Flavio Conceição so the Italian opted for five in midfield and Sándor Torghelle alone up front.
Udinese were greeted on to the pitch by a cleverly-choreographed Curva Nord, holding aloft thousands of placards of Champions League footballs to symbolise both their arrival on the ultimate football stage and their home colours of black and white.
The hosts' first chance to take the lead came on the quarter-hour when the excellent Antonio Di Natale put Iaquinta through with a lofted pass. Iaquinta's first touch was poor, forcing him left and his attempted lob was easily taken by goalkeeper Mario Galinović. Four minutes later, the 25-year-old spurned another opening, heading over Vincent Candela's swerving cross.
In the 28th minute it was third time lucky for Iaquinta. In a sweeping move Di Natale released Damiano Zenoni down the left wing and his centre was met with a firm header by the powerful striker.
Although they passed the ball neatly, with Constantinos Charalambides, Ezequiel González and Nordin Wooter combining well, the Greek side struggled with the final ball and only really threatened at set-pieces. Indeed, González clipped a post from a free-kick with Morgan De Sanctis beaten.
But it was De Sanctis's opposite number who was the busier of the two keepers. Di Natale was denied after 36 minutes when his mazy run resulted in a fine stop by Galinović. Vidigal's snapshot was also repelled by the Croatian.
After the break the visitors came out with more attacking intent as they sought to get back into the match. Wooter turned Felipe outside the area before forcing a save from De Sanctis. Torghelle then tried his luck from 18 metres following a quickly taken free-kick but failed to direct his shot.
As Malesani's men pressed forward, so they became exposed at the back and it was Iaquinta who took full advantage. The balance of the game turned decisively in favour of Udinese in the 73rd minute when Iaquinta raced on to another Di Natale pass with the Greeks caught looking for offside. He took the ball around Galinović and rolled it into an empty net.
Two minutes later, Iaquinta celebrated a dream start to his Champions League career, turning to steer a fierce drive past Galinović. In fact, the last ten minutes witnessed a complete siege of the visitors' goal and only a desperate clearance by Panathinaikos captain Ioannis Goumas prevented Iaquinta registering a fourth.