Rivaldo rift ruins title party

Olympiakos’s latest Greek league triumph, completed with a 5-3 away win over Ionikos in the closing round of Super League play yesterday, was overshadowed by the discontent expressed by many of the Piraeus club’s fans later in the evening during celebrations at the team’s Karaiskaki Stadium, primarily as a result of the administration’s rift with star Brazilian player Rivaldo a day earlier. In an emotionally charged news conference on Saturday, the 35-year-old Brazilian World Cup winner announced his departure from Olympiakos after negotiations for a new contract with the club broke down. The club contended on Saturday that Rivaldo had rejected an offer to renew his contract for another year on the same terms as this season. The Brazilian, however, claimed that Olympiakos’s administration wanted to halve his salary. Both Rivaldo and the club had announced last February that he would be staying for the 2007-08 season. «I was perfectly happy here,» an emotional Rivaldo told Saturday’s news conference. «The happiest days of my life were between February and now… But they forced me to leave.» Contrary to initial reports, Rivaldo, extremely popular among club fans, played in yesterday’s season closer and scored two of his team’s five goals. But he was absent from last night’s post-match title celebrations at Karaiskaki Stadium. The club’s President Socrates Kokkalis was loudly booed by numerous fans during the proceedings, forcing stadium officials to play the Olympiakos anthem louder over the PA in an effort to drown out the protests. Besides the club’s sudden split with Rivaldo, Olympiakos fans are generally frustrated by their team’s repeated failures in the Champions League. The Piraeus team had assured itself of its tenth domestic league title in 11 seasons several rounds ahead of the season’s end. AEK, Olympiakos’s nearest rival, ended nine points behind following a 3-1 loss at Panionios that gave the latter a UEFA Cup berth next season, along with third-placed Panathinaikos and fourth-placed Aris. In the final round’s other games, all played yesterday, it was: Apollon Kalamaria-Larissa, 1-2; Aris-Atromitos, 1-2; Ergotelis-Aegaleo, 3-0; Panathinaikos-Kerkyra 2-2; PAOK-OFI, 1-0; Xanthi-Iraklis, 1-2. Kerkyra, Aegaleo and Ionikos were relegated to the second division.