Xanthi survives eventful play-off to stay up

By George Georgakopoulos

Xanthi will remain in the top flight for the 26th season in a row, after defeating second-division club Olympiakos Volou 2-1 on Wednesday in the long-overdue relegation play-off at Thessaloniki.

Some two months after the end of the Super League, in which Xanthi finished 16th, the playoff with the team to finish third in the Football League, Olympiakos Volou finally took place, as the second division teams first had to negotiate a 14-game round-robin play-off mini-league, and the authorities also had to examine allegations about match fixing in the Football League.

After all that was settled, the game was scheduled for the Kleanthis Vikelidis stadium in Thessaloniki, only for Aris fans to break into their home ground the night before and throw nails and pieces of glass on the turf, while vandalizing the goalposts and spraying hate messages against the owners of Xanthi and Olympiakos Volou, among others.

A massive operation to restore the pitch and the goals started on Wednesday morning, that thankfully bore fruit and the game went ahead as scheduled, on the eve of the World Cup opener.

After a 25-minute delay, as the two teams could not agree which bench their coaches and substitutes would sit on, the play-off started and it was Olympiakos Volou that opened the score in the 34th minute through Mario Gurma.

Xanthi went back on level terms with Olympiakos three minutes into the first-half injury time thanks to a Dimitris Goutas goal from an offside position according to television replays.

That prompted the Volos club to issue a statement at half-time asking for all members of the federation’s board and of its referee committee to resign. It also forced its players to emerge from their locker room 10 minutes late in protest for the referee’s decisions.

Xanthi was left with 10 men three minutes from the restart as Petros Mantalos pushed an opponent violently. Despite the one-man disadvantage Xanthi went on to score the all-important winning goal in the 82nd minute through Antonis Ranos and held on to it till the end.

The game ended with a seven-minute delay as the match was interrupted when the coach of Xanthi, Nikos Kehayias was hit by an object from the Volos fans.

Just another day in Greek soccer.