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Brighton secured a spot in the elimination rounds of the Europa League thanks to Joao Pedro’s second-half penalty, which resulted in a narrow 1-0 win against 10-man AEK Athens.
Pedro, the forward for the Seagulls, scored his fifth goal in the competition at the 55th minute mark, securing a top-two finish for his team in Group B.
Before the VAR-awarded penalty, Albion were not performing as well as their opponents. They were also lucky to not be losing towards the end of the first half when AEK’s Steven Zuber hit the post.
The energetic team had to continue the game for the last 25 minutes with one less player due to Mijat Gacinovic receiving a second yellow card.
In two weeks, when Marseille comes to the Amex Stadium, Roberto De Zerbi’s team will compete for the top spot in their group and the chance to automatically advance to the round of 16.
Brighton’s first foray into European competition began with a disappointing 3-2 loss to the reigning Greek champions in September.
However, the Premier League team entered the AEK Arena with the ability to determine their own fate, thanks to a resilient come-from-behind draw against Marseille and consecutive victories against Ajax.
The head coach, De Zerbi, made four adjustments from the winning game against Nottingham Forest on Saturday, which included bringing back the match-winning player Pedro. Despite dealing with injuries, De Zerbi’s team started off strong.
Evan Ferguson was denied twice in a matter of two minutes due to strong defense. Meanwhile, AEK’s defender Domagoj Vida almost scored an embarrassing own goal with a powerful pass back to his goalkeeper Cican Stankovic, who had to quickly move across the goal line.
However, the scattered Seagulls lost momentum after their promising beginning and were consistently at risk of falling behind.
AEK’s Zuber, playing as a forward, pressured the Albion goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen to save a strong shot, and then came close to scoring from the following corner with a header.
Brighton narrowly avoided conceding a goal just before halftime due to constant pressure from the home team.
Switzerland’s Zuber made a clever move inside the 18-yard box, using quick footwork. His shot at an angle was deflected off Lewis Dunk and hit the left post. Unfortunately, Gacinovic was unable to score with the rebound.
After the game resumed, Verbruggen had to make a save from Gacinovic. Then, during a crucial period of the match, Brighton unexpectedly took the lead despite not dominating play.
Initially, Swiss referee Sandro Scharer did not make a call when Pedro fell to the ground while being pressured by AEK captain Damian Szymanski. However, after reviewing the incident on the monitor on the side of the pitch, he eventually awarded a penalty.
Pedro, a Brazilian striker, successfully converted his sixth penalty of the season. This was his third successful penalty against AEK, as he tricked Stankovic and scored from 12 yards. This performance followed his two goals as a substitute in the previous weekend’s match against Forest.
Before scoring the first goal, Brighton had not posed much of a threat. Their situation improved even more 10 minutes later when their midfielder from Serbia, Gacinovic, lost control of the ball and accidentally kicked Joel Veltman with his studs, resulting in his second yellow card.
Ferguson, a forward for the Seagulls, attempted to increase their lead by attempting to get past Stankovic after being given a clear opportunity, but was ultimately denied.
AEK’s midfielder, Orbelin Pineda, missed a wide shot as the team tried to tie the game. Despite Brighton’s lackluster performance, they were able to comfortably maintain their lead and secure their spot in the next round of the European competition.