Led by the inspired Brazilian striker Julio Cesar, who scored twice, AEK Athens FC sealed qualification to the UEFA Champions League group stage with an emphatic 3-0 victory against Heart of Midlothian FC, who finished the match with only nine men.
Two red cards
Playing in front of 48,000 fans in the Olympic Stadium in Athens, the venue for this season's UEFA Champions League final next May, AEK started brightly and their cause was helped in the 30th minute when Hearts midfielder Julien Brellier was sent off for a second yellow card. However, the first goal was not forthcoming until another Hearts player, Neil McCann, was also sent off just after the hour, this time after a foul on Vladimir Ivić.
From that moment on, it was just a matter of time before AEK found the breakthrough and it came in the 79th minute from the penalty spot after substitute Vassilios Lakis was brought down by Deividas Cesnauskis and Julio Cesar converted the spot kick. Three minutes later, a header by Nikolaos Lyberopoulos doubled the lead on the night and the third goal came from Julio Cesar, who dribbled past two Hearts players before firing past Craig Gordon.
Hearts, who went close with early attempts by Jamie Mole and Paul Hartley, failed to secure their first-ever berth in the UEFA Champions League, but they still have the security of European football this season in the form of the UEFA Cup, with the draw being held in Monaco on Friday.