The much anticipated day finally arrived as we took on CS Universitatea Craiova in the first leg of our Third Round Europa League qualifier in Romania.
By George Angelidis
A very tricky opponent, in a quiet difficult atmosphere possibly. However, there was drama in Craiova’s previous game against Budapest Honvend. In the 119th minute the Northern Irish referee Arnold Hunter by struck by a flare which exploded right next to him after a little confrontation by the players from both sides. Thus, there was a 25 or so minute delay and we weren’t even sure if the match would even go to spot kicks. Eventually after the long delay Craiova would go through on spot kicks…
Nonetheless Europa punished Craiova and the game was played behind closed doors…in a sense. Kids under the age of 14 were only allowed in the stadium as a very nice gesture to the troubles from the committee as playing any match behind closed doors, is really a shame as we’ve seen time and time again in Greek stadiums.
Now moving forward to the match itself. Unlike Aek, Craiova’s domestic season is already underway. They’ve played 4 games already, winning 3 and losing just the one. They are probably in a better position fitness wise than us. On a scorching hot day in Romania the game would begin. The 11 that Miguel Cardoso was a very predictable one from what we saw in the friendlies with Klonaridis once again leading the line. Livaja and the birthday boy Oliveira made the bench.
It was a pretty slow first half, taking into consideration the intense the weather it’s only logical to start slow and ease your way into the match. We successfully did and made it to halftime at 0-0 even though we possibly weren’t the better team in the first half. Mantalo could have opened the scoring after a great run by Paulinho, however his cross came at our captain too fast as be blasted over after not being able to sort his feet.
The moment that changed the match was when Marko Livaja came on to the pitch in the 40th minute replacing the unlucky Victor Klonaridis who came off injured. We started the second half much better and were pressing the Romanian side. There were two moments of real quality and class that decided the game to be honest. In the 60th minute Livaja dinked a delicate ball over to Mantalo who with a looping header beat the Italian goalie Pigliacelli opening the scoring for the Greek side. In the 85th minute Livaja made it two, after a great lung busting run from out right back teeing up Livaja who smashed in a huge, massive second away goal. Carlos Fortes, a Craiova substitute almost pulled one back in the dying embers of the match, his header just licking the post on it’s way out. Final score in Romania, Craiova 0-2 AEKARA! A huge result in Romania a massive step in qualification.
Furthermore, the team still has work to do, we must be very serious in one weeks time in the return leg at OAKA. Two moments of magic from Livaja, decided this game, but the team as a whole still has a lot of work to do. In Miguel we trust…