At least nine people were injured yesterday after rabid soccer hooligans fought police for three hours yesterday afternoon in one of the most densely populated parts of Athens ahead of a crucial championship match. Eight of the victims were policemen, who were injured after Panathinaikos supporters managed to cut off a small group of officers and beat them with crowbars and sticks, while throwing stones and threatening to burn them alive with petrol bombs. The violence started around 4 p.m., over four hours before the match between league leaders Panathinaikos and defending champions Olympiakos Piraeus started at the Athens team’s home ground on central Alexandras Avenue. Panathinaikos fans – no Olympiakos supporters were allowed in, under a new law meant to curb soccer violence – attacked police who used tear gas to dispel them. The violence continued off and on until 7 p.m., when new heavy use of tear gas succeeded in quelling the rioters. Nearly 2,000 officers were on duty. Three suspected hooligans were arrested. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.