Greek football has seen better days. The financial crisis, corruption and fan trouble has cast a dark shadow over the domestic game.
Olympiacos, a club surrounded by corruption allegations, has dominated the Greek Super League for the past seven years, but their success in Greece has not transformed to European glory.
Panathinaikos are on the brink of being sent to the Greek third division for bankruptcy, and Thessaloniki giants PAOK failed to qualify for the UEFA Europa League group stages after an embarrassing loss to Sweden’s Ostersunds.
Panathinaikos’ plight signifies the state of Greek football. Greece’s only club to reach a European final, the Greens have struggled financially for a number of years and haven’t been able to challenge Olympiacos’ tight grip on the Super League’s trophy.
Fans’ patience is wearing thin, especially given the team’s shocking start to the new campaign.
They did begin the season with a points deficit of -2 after an overrunning punishment from last season, but the Athenians have won only one of their first five games.
However, the reason behind their lackluster performances has become clear. Just two days before a Super League fixture against Panetolikos, club president Giannis Alafouzos announced his intentions to leave Panathinaikos, a decision which could leave the Greens filing for bankruptcy and facing automatic relegation to Greece’s third division.
Nevertheless, there is one club which appears to be in a stable position.
Stability at AEK
AEK Athens have slowly returned to the top of Greek football, reaching two consecutive Greek Cup finals and making the Europa League group stages for their first time in six years.
In decent financial nick, the capital club have been able to keep their leading figures and bolster their squad with quality European players.
Spanish head coach Manolo Jimenez has won the hearts of AEK fans in his second stint at the club, raising hopes of a realistic title run in the Super League.
Despite making a fantastic start to the Greek season, AEK’s mettle was going to be tested in a massive derby match against Olympiacos on September 24th. Coming into the game, Olympiacos sat on the brink of another crisis.
The Piraeus outfit had failed to win in either of their previous two league games against Xanthi and Asteras Tripolis, scoring only two goals in the process. With head coach Besnik Hasi reportedly on the verge of losing his job, Olympiacos’ players knew that they had to put in a big performance.
Inside a packed Athens Olympic Stadium, AEK made a strong start.
Sergio Araujo missed a gaping net in the very first minute, before Rodrigo Galo’s stinging long range drive was palmed over by Stefanos Kapino.
Olympiacos were on the back foot, but they broke the deadlock against the run of play. A quick throw fooled the AEK defence, former Chelsea player Marko Marin found space in the penalty area, and he beat Giannis Anestis with a beautiful lob.
To AEK’s horror, Vadis Odjidja-Ofe’s arrowed effort made it 0:2 in the first minute of the second half. The hosts were looking down and out, but they soon recovered.
Dangerous winger Lazaros Christodoulopoulos got AEK on the board with 25 minutes remaining, unleashing a fierce volley which squirmed under Stefanos Kapino.
Momentum never hindered
The match was stopped for eight minutes after tear gas crept into the stadium, however AEK didn’t lose their momentum. The Athenians’ incessant pressure finally paid off in the final ten minutes.
AEK won a free kick around 35 yards out, Lazaros stepped up, and he struck a simply stunning shot into the far-right corner. A candidate for goal of the season!
Captain Petros Mantalos completed the astounding comeback in the final minute, turning Marko Livaja’s cross past the goalkeeper. AEK open up a three-point lead at the top of the Super League table, leaving Olympiacos in turmoil.
Just a couple of hours after the game, it became known that coach Besnik Hasi had been relieved of his duties and goalkeeper Stefanos Kapino was to be sent to the reserves. All this with a key Champions League match against Juventus looming…
The match Greek football needed
To be honest, it was just the match which Greek football needed.
For the first time in years, it seems that a real title race is going to open up, with AEK, PAOK, Panionios and Olympiacos poised to fight it out to the death.
In the meantime, Olympiacos switch their attentions on to the Champions League match in Turin, and AEK prepare to host Austria Vienna in a Europa League fixture.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93
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