SPORTS

Pitch battles mar PAOK’s Cup triumph

GEORGE GEORGAKOPOULOS

TAGS: Soccer

PAOK beat AEK 2-1 in the 75th Greek Cup Final on Saturday at the Panthessaliko Stadium of Volos, central Greece, on one of the most disgraceful soccer occasions in the Greek sporting history. The final was marred by extensive clashes between rival fans and separately with the police, leaving dozens of people injured, some of them with stab wounds.

This was the first trophy for PAOK in 14 years, since its cup win in 2003.

AEK was the better team in the first half in a rather entertaining start to the final, but fell behind on the 24th minute. Djalma Campos created PAOK’s first major chance and Diego Biseswar converted it shaking off the challenge of Didac Vila.

Just three minutes later AEK equalized as PAOK keeper Panayiotis Glykos mishandled a Lazaros Christodoulopoulos shot, the ball slipped through his hands and went into the net for 1-1.

The second half lagged in action, and it took an offside goal to settle the final on the 81st minute: Pedro Henrique scored PAOK’s second goal from an offside position after a Marin Leovac pass, prompting strong protests from AEK and a pitch invasion by celebrating PAOK fans.

In the remainder of the game PAOK was more threatening in its counterattacks than AEK was in its efforts to equalize.

Yet it is what happened off the field that will stay in the memory of everyone involved in this Cup final.

Fans clashed with the police on their way to the stadium, with the riot police using tear gas to handle the hooligans.

Then face-to-face battles raged on for more than half an hour across a bridge connecting the two sides of the stands where the opposing fans met, leaving several dozens injured. The police was unable (or unwilling) to intervene and it was a miracle there were no fatalities at that spot, as anyone thrown off that bridge would have died.

The Volos hospital reported an endless stream of injured men flowing in, some with cuts and bruises and others with serious head injuries and stab wounds.

The clubs, the referee and the police agreed that in spite of what had already happened a postponement of the final would only make things worse, so they decided to go ahead with the game that kicked off almost half an hour late.

The final was preceded by a week-long saga over whether the Panthessaliko Stadium was fit to host the final as the two clubs had agreed.

It took a lot of hard work by the authorities of Volos and the stadium and by the federation for Panthessaliko to acquire some basic services such as CCTV, a few toilets etc., and even numbers on seats. The latter issue almost forced the postponement of the final as the tickets to the fans were printed without any seat numbers on, in violation of the legislation. Eventually the stadium recruited volunteers to put a numbered sticker on each seat and then on every ticket as the fans flocked to the stadium on Saturday.

Two days before the match the federation had promised in a statement that this would be a memorable final. It was so indeed, but for the wrong reasons.

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