Greek soccer turns fishier than ever

By George Georgakopoulos

Soccer in Greece reached new lows in scenes unseen since the national team’s triumph in Euro 2004, as PAOK and Olympiakos served up a cup semifinal with PAOK emerging as the winner and the sport as the loser. The fact that the Thessaloniki club will play in the final, against Panathinaikos, pales in significance against what happened on Wednesday at Toumba.

PAOK won 1-0 to overturn its 2-1 deficit from the first leg in Piraeus thanks to a goal by Stefanos Athanasiadis two minutes into the second half. But that is not even half of the story.

The match started one hour and 15 minutes after its scheduled kick-off time as fans had created a smog with their flares and in the ensuing havoc somebody filled the Olympiakos bench with fresh fish! A flare also burnt a hole on the bench.

Olympiakos withdrew to the locker rooms and the referee refused to start the game unless the fish was cleared off the Olympiakos bench, and then demanded that the two teams swapped benches.

When the game started a PAOK fan threw a banana at Olympiakos’s Brazilian player Leandro Salino, and he threw it back at the stands.

The two teams ended the game with 10 men each due to the red cards shown to PAOK's Bibras Natkho and Olympiakos's Yiannis Maniatis, with the referee blowing his whistle after 15 minutes of injury time, as every now and then players started fighting with each other throughout the second half.

After the final whistle, home fans stormed in to attack the Olympiakos players on the way to the locker room, with Maniatis and Nelson Valdez getting hit according to Olympiakos.

PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis stated after the game that he had called his Olympiakos counterpart, Vangelis Marinakis, and told him that if Olympiakos would not come out to play, he would withdraw PAOK from the Super League.

Later in the night Olympiakos issued a statement against PAOK and the federation, but also against Panathinaikos owner Yiannis Alafouzos, Skai television and OTE TV…

In a much more civilized game earlier on Wednesday, Panathinaikos overcame OFI Crete in the other semifinal in Athens, needing extra time to win 3-0 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate.

Goals by Mehdi Abeid in the first half and two goals by Marcus Berg in extra time gave Panathinaikos its first ticket to a Cup final since 2010.

The final between PAOK and Panathinaikos will take place at the Olympic Stadium of Athens on Saturday, April 26.