Four days after turning 28, Marcus Berg had reason aplenty to celebrate again after scoring four times in Panathinaikos FC's 4-1 victory against FC Midtjylland in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League play-off tie.
On a hot Athens evening, with temperatures into the mid-30s, the striker kept his cool in front of goal as he all but assured the Greens – who fell behind in the 13th minute – of their place in next Friday's group stage draw. His first, from the penalty spot, was followed by a simple chip, and on the cusp of half-time he completed his hat-trick with a cool left-footed finish after being teed up by Kostas Triantafyllopoulos. Berg's fourth, a minute from the end, left the Danish Super League leaders firmly up against it.
"It was a very good performance by us, especially after falling behind in the early stages," said Berg, for whom this is a second four-goal haul, having first achieved the feat on 20 December 2008 in FC Groningen's 5-2 win at Roda JC. "Converting the penalty was important, as we levelled quickly. Securing a three-goal lead gives us an advantage ahead of the second leg in Denmark next week. I am so happy with today's performance, my goals and the victory."
The former IFK Göteborg, PSV Eindhoven and Hamburger SV forward is not the first Panathinaikos player to find the net four times in a European fixture. On 30 September 1970, Antonis Antoniadis did so in a 5-0 second-leg success against AS Jeunesse Esch in the first round of the European Champion Clubs' Cup, the season Panthinaikos reached the final under the stewardship of Férenc Puskás.
Asked if this could serve as an omen for a prolonged continental campaign, Berg was swift to dismiss the notion. "We shouldn't look that far," said the man who racked up 23 goals, including a hat-trick in the Greek Cup final against PAOK FC, last term. "We have a long way ahead. Qualification for the group stage is not yet sealed."
His team-mates were effusive in their praise of the 26-cap Swedish international, with Danijel Pranjić saying his "uncanny concentration and effectiveness helped us record a deserved win" and Ouasim Bouy adding that Berg "showed his class tonight".
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