ANDERLECHT MAKE SOUVLAKI OUT OF AEK
Anderlecht opened the next chapter in their Europa League campaign at home with a convincing win over of AEK Athens in Brussels.
Argentinian Matias Suarez was the hero on the night with a hat-trick while Milan Jovanovic contributed a goal of his own.
At the other end it was AEK's South American Leonardo who struck the visitors' solitary goal at Constant Vanden Stock Stadion.
American Sacha Kljestan put in a solid performance in the midfield and contributed to the cause with an assist on Suarez' last goal to help his team mate complete his three-goal evening.
Athens, in their sponsor-less yellow shirts kicked off to start the game, but it was the home team that went about dominating the half at the get-go. After just three minutes Anderlecht had their first corner kick although it came to nothing but was a preview of the pressure that the Greeks would have to endure.
Credit to AEK however early on, and especially Panagiotis Lagos, who intercepted a pass deep in his own half, charged forward and got off a shot from just outside the box. Silvio Proto, between the sticks for les Mauves, was grateful to get a hand to it and deny a possible early net-bender by the Greek midfielder.
Ten minutes in and after more Belgian pressure a move forward should have gone in favor of Fernando, who was played through and then challenged by Traianos Dellas in the box. The 19-year old Brazilian skipped around the aging Greek and was brought to his knees; however Carlos Clos Gomez of Spain didn't see it the way everybody else in the stadium did, and waved on play.
Suarez, who was too hot for the back four to handle all night, had a shot that sailed into the stands minutes later, followed by Lucas Biglia's effort that ended up in the same row behind the goal.
On the break AEK pressed forward and ex-Chelsea and Barcelona man Eidur Gudjohnsen got off a shot that wasn't as good as he had hoped due to defensive pressure from Roland Juhasz, and before the Icelander could rue his miss, Dimitrios Konstantopoulos was picking Suarez' first goal out of the back of his net.
The 15th minute goal came after the #9 was played into the box and although tripped by the defender, got up and took another touch that sent the ball into the goal.
Proto was called into action as the clock struck 25 minutes because Nikos Karabelas came charging forward and shot cross goal. Had the Belgian not gotten a hand to it, the meek Greeks would have had something to shout about.
But again Anderlecht went on the attack with Guillaume Gillet and Fernando racing forward. The Belgian set it up for the Brazilian but he had trouble keeping it below the crossbar and watched it miss the target.
Jovanovic got in on the action minutes later as he and the hat-trick hero worked in tandem before the Serb got the better of Nikos Georgeas but then his powerful strike out of harms way and nowhere near the target.
Five minutes later Anderlecht doubled their goal tally when Jovanovic got on the end of Fernando's cross from the right side of the box as he flew past Euro 2004 winning defender Dellas and headed the ball into the top left-hand corner of the net.
The two goal lead was short lived however as Leonardo displayed a bit of Brazilian brilliance two minutes later. The 24-year old grabbed the ball in his own half, beat a very slow Marcin Wasilewski on the wing before pushing the ball into the box and getting on the end of it before a pair of charging Belgian defenders. The ball was struck with Brazilian flair and made its way into the top right hand corner of the net.
The two goal cushion was restored exactly five minutes later. Kljestan was fouled in the center of the field but play was allowed to continue as he pushed the ball forward and his fellow midfielder booted it forward to the pesky little Suarez at the top of the box. This time he steadied himself and fired a scorcher cross goal, almost burning a hole in the back of the net.
Before the halftime whistle Gudjohnsen had a half chance but failed to make anything of it as he looked nothing like his former Chelsea self.
After the intermission, the visitors came out with a sense of urgency but it was yet again the boys from Brussels who had the first chance of the half.
Jovanovic danced up the right side of the field past a Greek opponent and instead of taking the shot on, he squared the ball for Fernando who found himself all alone in front of goal. The youngster let the moment and the roar of the fans get the better of him, however, and rolled a lazy shot into Konstantopoulos' grateful arms.
Kljestan, who seemed to be all over the midfield on the night, putting in some good tackles and assisting the attack received the ball and spotted Fernando heading up field. Had he not been brought down, the Brazilian would have made the moment miserable for the one-cap Greek national team keeper.
With almost an hour gone and Anderlecht getting the lion's share of possession, the Mauves Army behind the Greek goal started breaking into chants of "ole, ole" after each pass of the ball, as they did the their best to torment the Athenians.
The visitors could have gotten one back after Olivier Deschacht put the ball out for a corner in order to keep Georgeas from getting a close range shot. The ensuing corner fell to Leonardo but the Brazilian struck the ball well but with too much swerve that saw it fly over the goal mouth.
With 20 minutes to go the Greek's Icelander had a chance to make a difference but his weak and feeble shot was easily scooped up by Proto.
The American received the ball on the top of the box and spotted the Argentinian making a run and slid his pass forward and watch as his team mate buried it into the back of the net.
Pror to the goal Kostas Manolas was shown his second yellow card of the night after a confrontation with Jovanovic. As the Serb stepped forward to argue a bad challenge, the weak Greek clutch his face and fell to the ground. Senor Gomez wasn't amused and booked him and sent him off for bad acting.
"It was a great way to start the Europa League campaign and obviously we're on a good run," Kljestan told Yanks Abroad after the game. "I think eight games unbeaten overall."
"I think we played our game, we controlled the game and had a lot of the ball so sometimes it doesn't matter what type of team comes here to play, as long as you play strong with the ball and attack."
Kljestan commented on his tremendous work rate in the middle of the park and how he goes about his job during games.
"Biglia and I have an understanding in front of the defense and know that we have to do the dirty work, because the four guys in front of us are super talented and can make things happen. That's our job."
And on that cool Belgian night, it was a job well done and has allowed Kljestan and company to put three points into the bag as they look to qualify for the next round at the end of the year.
Before then however, les Mauves will return to league action this weekend for a tough game on the road against league leaders Gent.