FC PAOK Thessaloniki will take a slender lead to Switzerland after edging Grasshopper-Club in the first leg of their UEFA Cup second-round tie at the Toumba stadium tonight.
Grasshopper coach Marcel Koller had warned his side before the match that the first 20 minutes would prove crucial to the final outcome, but his words appeared to go unheeded as the home side moved ahead after only three minutes when Dionysios Chasiotis rose high to head in Vangelis Koutsopoulos's corner.
The Swiss side looked to hit back immediately and on ten minutes Roberto Cabanas brushed through the PAOK defence before launching a stinging drive from the edge of the box which flashed narrowly wide. Grasshoppers looked the more threatening as the first half continued, but both sides struggled to create many clear-cut chances in a game battled out in a packed midfield.
PAOK lacked the creativity and imagination to unsettle the visiting defence, while the Swiss side looked a constant menace on the break. Shortly before the interval, Grasshoppers almost struck on the counterattack when a quick exchange of passes allowed Richard Nuñez to break into the box only to curl his shot wide.
Picked up the pace
PAOK picked up the pace after the break and again caught Grasshoppers cold in the early minutes of the half. Yiannakis Okkas broke free before picking out the on-rushing Yiasoumis Aiasoumi who sent a header straight at Fabrice Borer in the Grasshoppers goal. Borer, however, could not hold on to the ball and Yiasoumi pounced on the rebound to double his side's advantage.
Hope for Grasshoppers
Just as they had in the first half, Grasshoppers quickly hit back and were rewarded on 63 minutes when Aleksandar Mitreski was brought down in the box, allowing Nuñez to step up and convert the penalty to give the Swiss club hope for the second leg. Nuñez's coach said of the equaliser: "The advantage is now 60-40 in PAOK's favour."
Koller's opposite number, Angelos Anastasiadis, was disappointed PAOK could not find a third goal. "We had to face a very strong team and a very physical team," he said. "Unfortunately, we didn’t play with discipline, but we had some problems with injuries and I am satisfied with the result."