PFC Litex Lovech 0-1 Panathinaikos FC
Panathinaikos FC had to work hard for victory over PFC Litex Lovech in their UEFA Cup first round first-leg match, but the Greek giants will be confident of progressing as they take a one-goal lead back to Athens for the return leg.
The only goal came 20 minutes from time, courtesy of an own goal from Litex's Yugoslavian defender Nebojša Jelenkovic. The goal owed much to the enduring skills of former Polish international striker Krzysztof Warzycha. The second half substitute broke clear on the left and his cross--shot was diverted into his own goal by the unfortunate Jelenkovic.
The strength in depth of Panathinaikos, who reached the last eight in last season’s UEFA Champions League, was vividly illustrated by their star-studded bench, which featured Polish international striker Emanuel Olisadebe, Greek star Nikos Lyberopoulos and Finnish forward Joonas Kolkka. But the Greeks were pushed all the way by Litex, runners-up in the Bulgarian league last term.
Indeed, Litex had much of the play for most of the match, with Panathinaikos content to play on the counterattack. However, for all their possession, the Bulgarians were unable to forge a decent chance in the opening period. They retained the ball impressively, but their South American front pairing of Anderson Gomes and Claudio Graf looked out of sorts.
Brazilian Gomes made way at half-time to be replaced by Hristo Yovov, and the home side finally found the cutting edge that they had lacked in the first half. He came close to opening the scoring after 57 minutes, rising on the penalty spot to meet Mourad Hidiouad's excellent cross from the right. However, his powerful header was palmed away brilliantly by the goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis, who was in fine form throughout.
Also impressive for the visitors was Romanian midfield player Erik Lincar, who was at the heart of their intermittent counter-attacking. He came close to doubling the Greek side's advantage 15 minutes from time, but his audacious volley flew inches over. However, a second Panathinaikos goal would have been rough justice on the battling Bulgarians.