For the second year running, AC Sparta Praha left Athens with their UEFA Champions League dream in ruins after Panathinaikos FC undid the damage of a 3-1 first-leg loss by beating the Czech visitors 3-0.
Salpingidis makes sure
Panathinaikos defeated Sparta home and away in last season's third qualifying round but they went into tonight's game with plenty to do if they wanted to repeat that success and advance to the play-off round. José Sarriegi got the ball rolling on the stroke of half-time and, after Kostas Katsouranis had put the hosts ahead on away goals, Dimitris Salpingidis added to his first-leg strike late on to confirm his side's progress.
The hosts flew out of the traps in Athens and were dominant throughout the first half, only a string of saves from visiting goalkeeper Jaromír Blažek keeping them at bay. He first denied Giorgos Karagounis in the tenth minute before then keeping out Sebastián Leto and Djibril Cissé in quick succession. However, Blažek was finally beaten on the stroke of half-time when Sarriegi headed in from Karagounis's free-kick. For Sparta, skipper Patrik Berger had earlier missed their best opportunity of the opening 45 minutes, firing wide when well placed.
Nine minutes after the break, Panathinaikos went two up as Salpingidis led a counterattack down the right and found Katsouranis at the back post who finished clinically. That gave the home side the edge but, in sweltering conditions, they were struggling to maintain the same rhythm and pace as in the first period. And with two minutes remaining, Sparta spurned a great chance to retake the overall lead when Luboš Kalouda stabbed wide from close range. Panathinaikos duly punished them as they went straight down the other end and Salpingidis rounded Blažek to seal victory and send the 50,000 home crowd into raptures.