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Atlético in control of Champions League Playoff Leg

Strikes from Maxi Rodríguez, Diego Forlán and Sergio Agüero left Club Atlético de Madrid in firm command of their UEFA Champions League play-off round tie against Panathinaikos after a thrilling 3-2 win in Athens.

Maxi had given the visitors a first-half lead and although Dimitris Salpingidis equalised just after the break, the Spanish side hit back with two goals in eight minutes. Substitute Sebastian Leto swiftly reduced the arrears for the hosts to give Panathinaikos a glimmer of hope ahead of next week’s decider.

With Spanish defender José Sarriegi suspended, home coach Henk ten Cate fielded Gilberto in central defence alongside Loukas Vintra, the Brazil midfielder handed the task of shadowing Agüero. The plan bore fruit in the early stages as the hosts began confidently, led by effervescent skipper Giorgos Karagounis.

The visitors soon asserted themselves, however, weaving neat patterns through midfield and forging two openings in the space of 60 seconds. Simão missed a good chance to open the scoring before Raúl García tested home goalkeeper Mario Galinović from distance. Djibril Cissé responded for Panathinaikos, bursting on to Kostas Katsouranis’s flighted pass, but the sting was taken out of the Frenchman’s shot by Juanito’s block, allowing Sergio Asenjo to save.

Panathinaikos thought they had taken the lead 33 minutes in when Dimitris Salpingidis turned in a Karagounis cross, but the Greece striker had strayed offside. The visitors added to that anguish by taking the lead three minutes later. A slick passing move finished with Forlán playing in Maxi, who poked the ball past the on-rushing Galinović.

It was the home crowd’s turn to celebrate just two minutes after the break, though, as Panathinaikos equalised with a superb piece of football of their own, Salpingidis lobbing the ball over Asenjo following Karagounis’ measured pass. Atlético showed their attacking finesse to retake the lead in the 63rd minute when Forlán picked up possession on the edge of the penalty area rifled the ball in off the post.

Agüero extended Atlético’s lead, dribbling past Nikos Spiropoulos and Bryce Moon before beating Galinović with a powerful, low shot. Leto, on as a half-time replacement, gave his team hope with a thunderous shot to pull a goal back four minutes later, but despite a late bout of pressure the hosts failed to conjure an equaliser.

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