It was a fantastic return to the main stage of European competition for AEK and Panathinaikos with both sides securing remarkable wins against Brighton and Villareal respectively.
Enosi’s success stood out the most as they downed the Seagulls 2-3 in England on Friday morning (AEST), sealing a vital victory in the first matchday of the UEFA Europa League (UEL).
The Greek champions opened the scoring just 11 minutes into the game, thanks to a wonderful corner header from right back Djibril Sidibe into the top right.
The English club drew level on the 30-minute mark after VAR awarded them with a penalty, which striker Joao Pedro buried into the bottom left.
AEK went ahead again before the break after a free kick delivery was met by midfielder Mijat Gacinovic, who kicked the ball while sliding towards the ground into the bottom right (40′).
Brighton managed to equalise once more, thanks to another VAR-awarded penalty, with Pedro this time slotting the ball into the bottom right (67′).
The visitors responded with another goal, courtesy of substitute striker Ezequiel Ponce after his one-on-one chance saw the ball deflect off the goalkeeper, Jason Steele, back onto Ponce and then finally in the bottom right (84′).
Enosi hung on to their lead this time, handing their opponents a loss in their first-ever European match and bagging themselves a huge victory to put them in first place of their group, which also contains Ajax and Olympique de Marseille (who drew 3-3).
Panathinaikos sealed an equally crucial 2-0 triumph over Villareal at Athens’ Olympic Stadium, delivering a fantastic result for their fans in what was their first European group stage match in seven years.
The “Trifylli” took the lead in the 38th minute when right back Giannis Kotsiras played through striker Fotis Ioannidis, who then expertly chipped the ball over veteran goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
The Greens guaranteed the result after Ioannidis’ substitute, Andraz Sporar, released a left-footed strike along the ground from outside the box, the ball deflecting off Reina’s outstretched hand onto the right post and then into the goal.
Panathinaikos will be left thrilled at having defeated the team many consider to be the favourites to win their group, using that as a base to build off moving forward into their matches with Stade Rennais and Maccabi Haifa.
Olympiacos suffered a disappointing 2-3 loss to SC Freiburg at “Georgios Karaiskakis” ground, a poor start to their group stage that could severely impact their chances of advancing towards the UEL knockout round.
The Germans pulled in front early after a terrible back pass by defender Nicolas Freire allowed midfielder Roland Sallai to go one-on-one with goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis, with the Hungarian finishing it into the bottom left (9′)
The “red-whites” responded in the 40th minute when right back Rodinei’s cross was knocked in by striker Ayoub El Kaabi, though Freiburg restored their advantage on the stroke of half time through a penalty strike into the bottom left by winger Vincenzo Grifo (45+7′).
El Kaabi stepped up again for the Piraeus outfit, guiding in a ball from captain Kostas Fortounis (75′) before the travellers added a winning goal through forward Maximilian Philipp, who struck the ball into the bottom right from a corner (86′).
Aris Limassol also lost 3-2 in their away fixture with Sparta Praha to get their UEL campaign off on thr wrong foot.
The Cypriot champions went ahead first, thanks to a penalty from forward Aleksandr Kokorin into the bottom right (11′), which was also the club’s first-ever goal in the group stage of a European competition.
The Czech champions overturned the deficit with a quickfire brace from captain Ladislav Krejci, first through a corner header into the top left (20′) and then with a finish following a long throw-in set piece (25′).
Sparta got their third following another corner as defender Martin Vitik smashed the ball in from close range (67′), with the Cypriots getting a late consolation via a phenomenal long shot into the bottom right from substitute Shavy Warren Babicka (90′).
PAOK recorded a 2-3 success in their away game against HJK Helsinki to give themselves a positive start to their Europa Conference League campaign.
The Finnish premiers opened the scoring with a corner header from winger Hassane Bande (35′), but it was cancelled out by a free kick header from defender Konstantinos Koulierakis (55′).
The Thessaloniki giants then went in front following a bizarre set of circumstances that saw winger Kiril Despodov’s effort deflect off a defender, off the left post and then backspin and curl over the goal line (81′).
PAOK doubled their lead in a more conventional matter as striker Brandon Thomas hit the ball in from close range (90+4′).
This proved to be a pivotal goal for the “black-whites” as Helsinki managed to get one back, thanks to a VAR-awarded penalty which was struck down the middle by striker Bojan Radulovic.