LONDON: Scottish champions Celtic’s hopes of progressing in the Champions League were in the balance after they failed to make the most of a man advantage as AEK Athens held out for a 1-1 draw in Glasgow on Wednesday to take the upper hand in their Champions League third qualifying round tie.
Brendan Rodgers will be disappointed his side were unable to take a lead into Tuesday’s second leg after the Greek side had midfielder Kostas Galanopoulos sent off in the 57th minute for a second yellow.
The hosts got off to a flyer when Callum McGregor rewarded a positive start from Rodgers’ men to open the scoring on 17 minutes with a well-struck effort on the turn from a tight angle.
But Celtic failed to build on their lead and were punished for one moment of slack marking when Belgian Viktor Klonaridis fired home a vital away goal just before half-time.
After losing Galanopoulos, who seven minutes after being booked picked up a second yellow, AEK, who ended Olympiakos’ seven-year reign as Greek champions last season, were made to defend deep.
But despite dominating possession, Celtic struggled to create chances and Olivier Ntcham’s stoppage time shot that curled inches over was as close as they came to a winner.
The winners of the tie will face either Sweden’s Malmo or Hungarian team Vidi in the playoff round with a place in the group stage up for grabs.
“We knew they were a good side but we proved that we are also a good side and can go over there and get a result,” said Celtic boss Rodgers.
“We can score over there, I don’t think there is any question of that. We also have to defend well, as well. It was always going to be a difficult game for us, at 1-0 up or 1-1, we always thought we would have to go there and score.
“It is still very much in the balance. Of course it swings to them as they are at home but we certainly know we have the quality to go and perform, after seeing that this evening.”
Greece’s other Champions League hopefuls, PAOK Salonika, came back from two goals down to beat Russian giants Spartak Moscow 3-2 in a thrilling game.
Goals from Ivelin Popov and Dutch winger Quincy Promes put visitors Spartak 2-0 up inside 17 minutes but the Greek side responded quickly.
A penalty converted by Aleksander Prijovic got PAOK back in the game in the 29th minute and goals for Dimitris Limnios and Dimitris Pelkas put the home side 3-2 up by the break.
Spartak had a great chance to level after the break but Promes’s 71st-minute penalty was saved by PAOK keeper Alexandros Paschalakis.
The winners will play Portugal’s Benfica or Turkey’s Fenerbahce in the playoff round for a place in the group stage.
Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg enjoyed a comfortable 3-0 win over Macedonian champions Shkendija with two gals from Israeli forward Moanes Dabour.
Should they complete the job in the second leg, last season’s Europa League semi-finalists Salzburg will face Red Star Belgrade or Spartak Trnava in the playoff round.
Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2018