PAO into Champions League

Panathinaikos sealed the country’s second Champions League spot with a 3-1 win over visiting Aris in the Super League playoffs last night. The game, billed as the last official encounter for Panathinaikos at its historic Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium, drew a capacity crowd. Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Panathinaikos will make a temporary shift to the Athens Olympic Stadium in the new season until its new venue in downtown Votanikos is completed, most probably in 2010. In the evening’s other game, played later last night, AEK was held to a 2-2 draw at Panionios. AEK hosts Panathinaikos, the mini-league’s winner, in Wednesday’s final round but after last night’s results it will be five points behind the Greens who advance to the Champions League’s qualifying rounds. As league champion, Olympiakos is already through to the European competition’s group stage. An explosive first 20 minutes in the second half sealed the victory for Panathinaikos last night. Greece midfielder Giorgos Karagounis, the top scorer in the playoffs, put the home team ahead in the 56th minute when he was put through by a short and incisive Dame N’Doye pass. N’Doye himself scored in the 63rd minute, and Karagounis made it 3-0 just two minutes later when he pounced on a defensive error, charged through, and dodged his way past goalkeeper Costas Halkias for an open goal. Thiago Gentil narrowed for Aris with a header 10 minutes later. Panathinaikos’s impressive performance thrilled fans who packed the club’s stadium for the first time all season. Unhappy with the club’s administration and frustrated by their team’s lack of success over the past decade, a large number of the club’s fans have refused to attend games throughout the season. But recently announced plans by the club’s owner, Yiannis Vardinoyiannis, to reduce his stake from just under 90 percent to 50 percent have brightened the mood at the club. Aris manager Dusan Bajevic, the most successful coach in Greek club-level soccer who is being rumored for a switch to Panathinaikos in the new season, abruptly ended his appearance at the post-match news conference when a reporter asked him about the prospect.