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Two goals from Paul Scholes in the final ten minutes came as a great relief to Manchester United FC who, when Giorgios Karagounis equlaised just past the hour, feared that they would be dropping home points to Panathinaikos FC at the start of the UEFA Champions League Second Group Stage.
The Greek side proved formidable opposition and should have been at least two goals clear at half-time. Fabien Barthez kept the 1999 champions in it at that stage and it was his long kick that paved the way for Teddy Sheringham's opener three minutes into the second-half. Scholes second goal, in the 90th minute, was a delightful chip and typified a match of high-quality.
The quality was mostly the preserve of Panathinaikos at the start as they put together a number of slick passing moves that frightened the life out of Alex Ferguson's side. The visitors had qualified from Group E - ahead of Juventus FC - despite only firing six goals in their first six matches and Old Trafford could see why they are not prolific scorers.
In particular Nikolaos Liberopoulos had two outstanding opportunities in the opening period but could not make them count and continues his search for a goal in the competition which has extended all the way from the qualifying rounds. Early on he forced Barthez to save with his feet. Then on the stroke of half-time he was poised to pull the trigger again at the climax of a sweeping move that began after Nicky Butt was hustled out of possession.
Barthez to the rescue again
Liberopoulos made room by nutmegging a defender but again couldn't find a way past Barthez. At this stage United had only a couple of long-range efforts from Butt and David Beckham to their name. With Ryan Giggs unable to shake off his hamstring injury it was to Beckham that they looked to spart something off.
At half-time Panathinaikos could feel well satisfied with life. Yet this United team, looking to stretch their winning sequence in all competitions to seven matches, are always capable of producing something special to turn a game. It was a route-one approach with which they put their noses in front however; Barthez's long punt helped on by Dwight Yorke and there was Sheringham striding away from his marker to bury a shot and maintain his record of scoring in every Champions League home fixture this season.
Panathinaikos equalised in the 64th-minute from a free-kick. The ball was touched off to the influential Karagounis who beat Barthez with a delightfully-floated drive. The scores were still tied as the game went into the final ten minute phase and how United needed another shaft of inspiration.
It came from full-back Mikael Silvestre who justified his inclusion ahead of Denis Irwin with a storming run that took him past a couple of defenders. His shot came back off the keeper and Scholes tucked the loose ball away. Then in the 90th-minute a sweeping move ended with Scholes in possession to the right of goal. A deft chip did the rest and United were home though once more they had not been entirely convincing.