Vincent Candela scored a blistering long-range strike with just seven minutes remaining as Udinese Calcio completed a late fightback to win at Panathinaikos FC in UEFA Champions League Group C.
Outplayed for much of the game, the visitors went into the final ten minutes trailing to Cypriot midfielder Constantinos Charalambides's goal on the cusp of half-time. But the scourge of Panathinaikos this season, Vincenzo Iaquinta, equalised on 81 minutes, and two minutes later Udinese were ahead from the most unlikely source. Candela cut in from the wing and rifled a terrific effort from 25 metres into the top-right corner – his first goal in his 28th appearance in the competition.
Iaquinta had registered a hat-trick in Udinese's victory in the reverse fixture on Matchday 1, and the Italy striker provided a timely boost to his side when he passed a late fitness test to line up in Athens. He may have regretted his hasty recovery when the Serie A team ran on to the greasy pitch under lashing rain at the Spyros Louis stadium, but he was soon in the thick of things. Inside five minutes he almost found a way through, creating space on the right before Elias Kotsios stopped him in his tracks with a fine tackle at full stretch.
De Sanctis tested
It was a rare opening for the visitors in a dominant opening spell by Panathinaikos as Charalambides and Flavio Conceição looked to test Morgan De Sanctis with early shots from distance. Neither managed to marry intent with application, however, and the Italian goalkeeper remained unruffled until the tenth minute when he collected a tame Ioannis Goumas header. His defenders were enduring a more difficult evening, though, and Panathinaikos posed a constant threat from set-pieces.
But the hosts failed to capitalise from Charalambides's dangerous deliveries, and they almost paid for their profligacy midway through the first half. Antonio Di Natale ran on to a pinpoint pass from Sulley Ali Muntari and with the goalkeeper rushing out, hit his effort just the wrong side of the post. Stung, the home team quickly wrested back the initiative, and responded with an almost identical opening of their own. Sotirios Leontiou was presented with the opportunity but the result was the same as he put his attempt wide of the near post.
Dead balls remained Panathinaikos's principal outlet, and a free-kick eight minutes before the break almost paid dividends. Charalambides arced a cross on to the head of Kotsios, whose effort left the unsighted De Sanctis standing but bounced back off the woodwork, where Dimitrios Papadopoulos was on hand with a header that the Udinese keeper did well to claw away. The former Juventus man could do nothing to deny Charalambides in first-half stoppage time, however, as he drifted behind the defence to turn in Leontiou's testing left-wing centre at the back post.
De Sanctis was soon in action after the restart, producing an acrobatic one-handed save to push Conceição's free-kick wide, but it was a rare attack as Panathinaikos looked content to retain possession in midfield and sit on their lead. And they were made to pay for their complacency with nine minutes remaining when Iaquinta pounced on a lacklustre clearance from Kotsios. Within minutes, Candela had completed an unlikely turnaround in stunning fashion, meaning a draw for the Nerazzurri at home to FC Barcelona will see them through to the knockout stages.