Hugo Almeida's late equaliser for Werder Bremen denied Panathinaikos FC a first victory in UEFA Champions League Group B as this tense encounter in Athens ended all-square.
Striker Vangelis Mantzios appeared to have revived Panathinaikos's challenge by netting a superb double to overturn Per Mertesacker's opener for Bremen. But Almeida scored the third headed goal of the night seven minutes from time to frustrate local ambitions and earn the German club a third successive draw in the pool.
Following back-to-back defeats, the pressure was on the Greens to kick-start their campaign, with coach Henk Ten Cate saying "it was time" they got off the mark in Group B. Their urgency was evident early on as, with talisman Giorgos Karagounis and Gilberto back in midfield, the hosts passed the ball with greater fluency, creating several chances. The first of these came after three minutes when Karagounis's curling free-kick flashed past the far post with José Sarriegi and Loukas Vintra lurking. The effervescent Karagounis was at the centre of everything. He drew a low stop from Christian Vander with a powerful shot after 19 minutes, before testing Bremen's reserve goalkeeper from 25 metres with a rasping drive that Vander tipped over.
Bremen's cause was hardly helped when forward Claudio Pizarro was replaced by Markus Rosenberg because of an injury after 27 minutes. Despite the setback, however, the Bundesliga side soon undid all of Panathinaikos's good work – taking the lead against the run of play through defender Mertesacker. Mesut Özil took a free-kick on the right and sent over a teasing delivery which Mertesacker controlled with his shoulder before lashing in. The Greek team refused to panic, though, and rallied to equalise in the 36th minute through Mantzios, who beat Vander with a fine looping header from Gabriel's right-wing cross.
Mantzios strikes again
Andreas Ivanschitz replaced Nikos Spiropoulos at half-time as Ten Cate sought to inject more creativity into his side, yet it was Thomas Schaaf's visitors who registered the first attempt of the half – Almeida forcing keeper Alexandros Tzorvas to save a header. Ivanschitz was seeing much of the ball as Pana gave priority to the Austria captain's left foot, but it was Karagounis who again threatened the Bremen goal with a snap-shot that flew over the bar as the home pressure grew. The dominance paid dividends in the 68th minute when Manztios got his second of the night with another towering header. After Vintra's header from an Ivanschitz corner was cleared off the line by Özil, the 25-year-old Manztios rose above Petri Pasanen to nod the ball high and unerringly beyond Vander's dive. It could have been 3-1 shortly afterwards but Dimitris Salpingidis's strike crashed off the underside of the bar, bouncing to safety.
Karagounis left the pitch to rapturous applause in the 71st minute, to make way for Cleyton, as Ten Cate looked to close out the match. It was not to be for Pana, though, as that man Özil picked out Almeida in the penalty box with a superb left-wing cross which the Portuguese nodded back across Tzorvas to clinch the draw.