Olympiakos survives late surge

Defending champion and breakaway leader Olympiakos survived a late surge by Cretan host Ergotelis last night for a 2-1 win that takes the Piraeus soccer club a step closer to its 10th Greek league title in 11 seasons. Olympiakos, on 59 points from 23 games, holds a commanding 11-point lead over second placed Panathinaikos, a comfortable 3-0 winner over struggling Thessaloniki team Iraklis. Seven rounds of play remain. Third-placed AEK, on 43 points with a game in hand, was playing away against Apollon Kalamaria late last night. At halftime, the sides were locked at 1-1 after AEK had taken an early lead against its lowly opponent. Olympiakos maintained a 2-0 lead until late in the game, with goals from young striker Haris Pappas and defender Julio Cezar. The champion felt the threat of a late comeback when Ergotelis, restrained for most of the game, narrowed the deficit in the 86th minute and then came close to equalizing on two occasions. The Cretan club struck the post in the first minute of injury time, and two minutes later had another scoring opportunity cleared off the line by Cezar. On Saturday, visiting Larissa rebounded from an early own goal to beat PAOK 3-1 and narrow the gap separating the two sides to just one point. PAOK slipped to fifth place, surrendering fourth spot to Thessaloniki rivals Aris, a 3-1 winner, at home, against mid-table OFI. Aris, on 33 points, is at the head of an exceptionally tight race involving the majority of Super League clubs. Eleven points separate 12 teams, all vying for either a UEFA Cup spot or survival in the country’s top-tier soccer competition. Highlighting how tight the league is this year, Panionios’s 3-1 home win over Corfu team Kerkyra yesterday not only offered the Athens club some comfort over the threat of relegation but also made it a contender for a UEFA Cup berth next season. In yesterday’s other game, it was: Xanthi, Aegaleo, 0-0. On Saturday, Atromitos defeated Ionikos, 1-0.