Joao Pedro penalty sends Brighton through to Europa League knockout stages

By Sports Desk November 30, 2023

Brighton secured a place in the knockout stages of the Europa League after Joao Pedro’s second-half penalty earned an unconvincing 1-0 victory away to 10-man AEK Athens.

In-form forward Pedro converted his fifth goal of the competition in the 55th minute to guarantee the Seagulls a top-two finish in Group B.

Albion were second best before the VAR-awarded spot-kick and fortunate not to fall behind in the closing stages of the first half when AEK forward Steven Zuber struck a post.

The lively hosts were forced to play the final 25 minutes a man down following Mijat Gacinovic’s dismissal for a second yellow card.

Roberto De Zerbi’s men will vie for first place in the pool – and automatic qualification for the last 16 – when Marseille visit the Amex Stadium in the final round of fixtures in two weeks’ time.

Brighton’s maiden European campaign was launched with an underwhelming 3-2 defeat to the Greek champions in September.

Yet the Premier League club arrived at the AEK Arena in control of their own destiny thanks to a battling comeback draw in Marseille and back-to-back wins over Ajax.

Head coach De Zerbi made four changes from Saturday’s 3-2 success at Nottingham Forest, including recalling match-winner Pedro, and saw his injury-hit side start in the ascendancy.

Evan Ferguson was twice blocked as he threatened inside two minutes, while AEK defender Domagoj Vida came close to a calamitous own goal with a firm back pass which had goalkeeper Cican Stankovic scampering across his line.

But the disjointed Seagulls faded from the encouraging start and were in regular danger of falling behind.

AEK forward Zuber forced Albion keeper Bart Verbruggen to turn over a powerful drive before heading narrowly wide from the resultant corner.

Brighton were then lucky not to concede just before the break amid relentless home pressure.

Switzerland international Zuber worked space inside the 18-yard box with quick feet before seeing his angled drive deflect off Lewis Dunk and rattle the left post, with Gacinovic unable to head home the rebound.

Verbruggen was forced to save from Gacinovic after the restart before Brighton snatched the lead against the run of play during a pivotal spell in the contest.

Swiss referee Sandro Scharer initially waved play on when Pedro went to ground under pressure from AEK captain Damian Szymanski before pointing to the spot after viewing a replay of the incident on the pitch-side monitor.

Brazilian forward Pedro duly dispatched his sixth penalty of the season – and third against AEK – by sending Stankovic the wrong way from 12 yards to back up his weekend brace at Forest as a substitute.

Brighton had barely threatened before the opener and their cause was further strengthened just 10 minutes later when Serbia midfielder Gacinovic over-ran the ball and raked his studs into Joel Veltman to receive a second booking.

Seagulls striker Ferguson threatened to double the lead before being repelled as he tried to round Stankovic having been sent clear.

AEK midfielder Orbelin Pineda then flashed wide as the home side pushed for a leveller but Brighton, despite an uninspiring display, held on relatively comfortably to ensure their European adventure continues.

Related items

  • Nagelsmann urges Germany to beat pressure of being Euro 2024 hosts Nagelsmann urges Germany to beat pressure of being Euro 2024 hosts

    Julian Nagelsmann is confident his side can beat the pressure of being the host nation as they prepare to kick off the tournament against Scotland on Friday.

    The 36-year-old is taking charge of his first major tournament with Germany after taking over from Hansi Flick in September and has lost just one of his eight games since taking over.

    Germany have struggled in recent major tournaments, getting knocked out of Euro 2020 in the round of 16 before crashing out of the 2022 World Cup in the group stages.

    However, Die Mannschaft are aiming to end that run, chasing a fourth European title and their first since 1996, with Nagelsmann confident his team can channel their nervous energy into positive performances.

    "I think we're a bit nervous, but it's an important point, we have to have a certain nervousness," he said. "There was such a buzz [in the camp], a bit like in school. It was really loud: 'Can everyone please calm down a bit!'.

    "I look in our players' eyes and see the belief and will to win. I want us to believe in ourselves: we have great players, good togetherness, home advantage, we've had great training sessions and a good mentality.

    "We have everything: we just have to show it tomorrow, and that's why belief is very important.

    "We can beat pressure, and we can beat Scotland as well."

    Scotland arrive as heavy outsiders and are making just their fourth appearance at the Euros compared to Germany's record 14.

    The Tartan Army qualified second in their group after a strong opening to their campaign, and Nagelsmann praised their performances under Steve Clark.

    "They don't have world stars, but that makes them very dangerous," he added. "They work very hard and have a classic mentality, but it's not a kick and rush team. They can do that, but they can play football.

    "We will have more pressure on us than Scotland, and they will want to capitalise on that."

  • Orlando City v Los Angeles FC: Pareja seeking injection of confidence Orlando City v Los Angeles FC: Pareja seeking injection of confidence

    Oscar Pareja believes it is important for Orlando City to rediscover their self-confidence ahead of Saturday's clash with in-form Los Angeles FC at Inter&Co Stadium.

    The international break means Orlando have been out of action since a 1-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls on June 2, their third straight game without a victory.

    While they sit a lowly 11th in the Eastern Conference standings with 17 points, LAFC are second in the West with 30 points after winning five in a row in MLS play.

    Asked about the value of having time off to reflect on their poor run, Pareja said: "It's important, because with the work we do, the intensity of how we do things is important.

    "We are optimistic after having a refresh when we needed it."

    On the challenge of facing LAFC, the Orlando coach added: "Many teams have challenges with players being away. We are professionals, we expect a team that is playing well.

    "But at the same time, it's a great opportunity for us to play well and raise our confidence, to get the points we need right now." 

    In all competitions, LAFC have won their last six matches without conceding, becoming the first team from MLS to ever accomplish that feat.

    Head coach Steve Cherundolo believes that achievement is the result of a team effort, saying: "I think the team is playing a mature, professional, complete 90 minutes.

    "Some teams have better defensive solutions against us so we don't have quite as many chances, but in every game we are creating chances and we are not giving up many chances.

    "Our collective defending is very good. You're seeing it all come together."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH 

    Orlando City – Nicolas Lodeiro 

    Lodeiro has been involved in nine goals in MLS play against Los Angeles (five goals, four assists, including playoffs). 

    Only Cristian Espinoza (15) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (11) have been involved in more versus them.

    Los Angeles FC – Denis Bouanga 

    Bouanga scored LAFC's goal in their 1-0 win over FC Dallas last time out on June 1. 

    The goal was Bouanga's 48th in all competitions since the start of last season, 16 more than any other MLS player in that time.

    MATCH PREDICTION – LOS ANGELES FC WIN

    LAFC are unbeaten in four all-time meetings with Orlando (two wins, two draws), though the Lions did eliminate them on penalties from the quarter-finals of MLS is Back in 2020.

    Orlando are winless in their last five home matches, drawing two and losing three while failing to net in each of their last three – they had only previously gone three home matches without netting in their second, third and fourth home MLS games back in 2015.

    LAFC, meanwhile, have won seven successive matches in all competitions, the last six of them to nil. They will fancy their chances of victory, even without home advantage.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Orlando City – 37.7%

    Los Angeles FC – 35.9%  

    Draw – 26.4%

  • Ito becomes first signing for Kompany at Bayern Ito becomes first signing for Kompany at Bayern

    Bayern Munich have announced the signing of Hiroki Ito from Stuttgart.

    The defender becomes the first signing under new head coach Vincent Kompany, signing a four-year contract to keep him at the club until 2028.

    Ito joined Stuttgart in 2021, on an initial loan from Japanese side Jubilo Iwata, before making the move permanent the following year.

    He made 97 appearances for Stuttgart in all competitions, including 29 in 2023-24, as he helped the club to a second-place finish in the Bundesliga and Champions League qualification.

    "It's a great honour for me to be able to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world," Ito told the club website.

    "Bayern is also a big name in Japan. I always gave my all for Stuttgart and am grateful to the club. Now I'm looking forward to the challenge in Munich and I want to play my part in FC Bayern winning lots of trophies.

    "It was time to take a new step, and for me, Bayern is the perfect club to do so."

    Bayern finished below Stuttgart in the Bundesliga last season in third, ending their run of 11 consecutive league titles, while falling at the semi-final hurdle in the Champions League.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.