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Panathinaikos FC blunted the three-man attack of FC Barcelona with, in the end, some comfort to secure a UEFA Champions League Group C draw which will not harm either side's chances of reaching the next stage.
Only occasionally were the two goalkeepers called into action, as Ronaldinho in particular had a night of increasing – and rare – frustration. However, when Panathinaikos come to the Camp Nou for Barcelona's 100th UEFA Champions League game in a fortnight, they will be hard-pressed to hold out in this style again.
The big surprise in the Panathinaikos lineup was the selection of Igor Bišćan in defence in place of usual captain Ioannis Goumas, while Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard opted for the experience of Henrik Larsson over the prodigious brilliance of Lionel Messi. It was goalkeeper Víctor Valdés who was first into action, though, pouncing on the ball when Mikael Nilsson and Evagelos Mantzios broke down the left and fed Sándor Torghelle.
However, Barcelona soon found their rhythm, Samuel Eto'o the spearhead supported by Larsson and Ronaldinho, who supplied an early crossfield ball to the Swede that bamboozled the home defence, though Eto'o's subsequent shot did not trouble home goalkeeper Mario Galinović. A clever Deco free-kick past the blind side of the wall then found Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who sent the ball past the far post.
Panathinaikos were clearly more wary of Barcelona than their bullish pre-match demeanour had suggested, Ronaldinho and Deco seeming to force slips from their opponents through sheer presence. But there may have been strained Catalan nerves at the other end when the lively Torghelle's through-ball sent Mantzios one-on-one with Valdés 20 minutes in, only for the shot to go straight at the grateful custodian.
Home side settle
Still, that incident reminded Barcelona of their own vulnerability, and Panathinaikos were finally allowed to settle, their midfield often hitting threatening balls over the top of the visiting defence, though full-backs Loukas Vintra and Filippos Darlas offered alternative attacking options through overlaps. In contrast to their early dominance, it was Barcelona who were perhaps happier to end the half at 0-0, having switched Eto'o and Ronaldinho within their front three in an attempt to rediscover lost verve.
The break seemed to refresh Barcelona, who showed the same guile as in the first 20 minutes. Xavi Hernández's precise pass into the path of Ronaldinho set up Eto'o, denied by Galinović, and the striker was then stopped by Naisef Morris's nerveless sliding tackle. Thiago Motta now replaced Mark van Bommel, but the Italian's first act was to concede a free-kick nearly 30 metres out, Vintra's strong shot forcing Valdés to dive and save.
Panathinaikos coach Alberto Malesani decided on a change himself just before the hour, Torghelle withdrawn and Sotirios Leontiou coming into midfield, Mantzios now a lone forward supported by Ezequiel González. The central midfield was becoming a crowded place, and Rijkaard chose, with a stalemate beginning to emerge, to unleash Messi for Larsson, though Van Bronckhorst's snap shot did force Galinović into action just before the substitution.
Andrés Iniesta too was tried, and Dimitrios Papadopoulos made his bow in this season's group stage for the final 15 minutes. Not long after, Eto'o broke through the Panathinaikos defence and rounded Galinović, but to his amazement his strike from a tight angle was deflected off target by Bišćan's leg. Then the Cameroonian was sent through but the goalkeeper dived at his feet. It summed up Barcelona's night.
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