Greek side Aris Thessaloniki scored a solitary goal to overcome 2009 Europa League champions Atletico Madrid in a dour game.
Winger Javito scored a great volley in a game that had few chances, with Atletico looking to protect their players with a key game at the weekend, while Aris were set up very defensively.
Atletico have had a splendid start to the season, winning the first two games of the new LA Liga season, sending them to the top of the league, whilst also beating Rafa Benitez’ Inter Milan in the Super Cup. Aris have won one of their two games so far, placing them in mid-table int the Greek Super League.
With Atletico facing Barcelona at the weekend manager Quique Sanchez Flores chose not to risk Sergio Aguero, who suffered a sprained ankle against Atletico Bilbao recently. Aris, who had already played four European games this season prior to the Atletico encounter, chose to leave out American prodigy Freddy Adu. The former-DC United midfielder has failed to live up to the high expectations that were bestowed upon him at the tender age of fourteen.
The game had a tentative start, with neither side looking particulary threatening going forward. Diego Forlan, who broke Liverpool and Fulham hearts last season as Los Colchoneros went on to win the Europa Legaue last season, skewed a shot wide after twenty minutes. The Uruguyan, who has scored three gaols in two games already this season, was forced to play up front on his own without the help of Aguero. Tiago played just behind the former-Manchester United forward, but the Portuguese midfielder failed to support Forlan often enough.
Aris did have the ball in the back of the net after the half-hour mark when fromer-LA Galaxy striker Carlos Ruiz fired in from outside the box, but the referee rightly brought play back as the Guatemalan international brought the ball down with his arm.
Atletico had little force up front, with Forlan struggling to bully the determined Aris defence. Wingers Simao and Fran Merida, formerly of Arsenal, were repeatedly frustrated as their crosses into the box were either met by the Aris back-line or goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis.
Aris manager, Hector Cuper, has vast European experience, managing sides such as Valencia, Inter Milan and Parma, whilst also managing the Georgian national team between 2008 and 2009. The eventless first half was down to the tough-tackling of Aris’ sturdy defensive play, coupled with Atletico’s failure to take advantage of the sheer quality chasm the Spanish side had over their Greek opponents.
The poor state of the pitch, as well as the hostile atmosphere, may have also had an effect on Atletico, who were forced to shoot from distance, with Antonio Lopez and Forlan striking tame efforts towards Sifakis’ goal in what was a frustrating evening for Atletico.
The Aris crowd, though, were sent into a daze when Spanish winger Javito, who started his career at Barcelona, volleyed a cracking shot into the bottom corner from twenty yards. Aris had the shock lead and Atletico responded immediately, bringing ex-Arsenal forward Jose Antonio Reyes on to aid Forlan in his forward pursuits.
It was Aris, though, who went closest to scoring the next goal. After a mistake from goalkeeper David de Gea, Aris forward Ruiz set-up teammate Koke, who fired a shot against the post. The ball fell to Ruiz inside the area who was only thrwarted by a brilliant block by Alvaro Dominguez.
Atletico began to push for the equaliser as the game wore on and, with just over ten minutes left, two chances came almost at once. Subsitute Diego Costa couldn’t quite turn in the rebound after Sifakis struggled to clear and, soon after, Costa should have scored after Forlan’s cross found the striker unmarked, six yards out from goal. His header, though, went wide of the mark. Nevertheless, Aris showed that they were not going to sit back and defend as they went up the other end and forced ‘keeper de Gea into a fine save from a Javito close-range effort.
Aris deserved this historic victory, sending the Greek side second in group B, as Bayer Leverkusen hammered Rosenborg 4-0.