Panathinaikos retains slim lead

Nikos Lymberopoulos scored for the fourth consecutive league game yesterday to give Panathinaikos a 1-0 home win over Ionikos and keep the Athens club at the top of Greek soccer’s first division. With a hat trick by Brazilian striker Giovanni, Olympiakos trounced struggling Akratitos 5-2 away to remain in second place. After 19 rounds, Panathinaikos has 44 points and Olympiakos 42. Giorgos Koutsis and Yugoslav striker Sladan Spacic lifted PAOK to a 2-0 victory over OFI. PAOK’s third win in a row means the Thessaloniki club stays in third place with 39 points, four ahead of AEK. In an action-packed game in Athens, AEK beat Xanthi 3-2, thanks to a 90th-minute goal from substitute Yugoslav striker Ilja Ivic. In other results yesterday it was: Iraklis 3, Panionios 1; Proodeftiki 1, Kallithea 1. On Saturday, Aris beat Ioannina 1-0 and Aegaleo trounced Panachaiki 4-0. With a 1-5-13 record, Panachaiki remains bottom of the 16-team standings with just eight points. With its midfield weakened by the absence of injured Giorgos Karagounis and suspended Angelos Bassinas, Panathinaikos appeared slightly disorganized against Ionikos. The league leaders found it hard to create space against Ionikos’s tight marking. Panathinaikos squandered three scoring opportunities in the first half. Joonas Kolkka came closest when his low drive went just wide of keeper Socratis Kopsahilis’s right post. One minute into the second half, Takis Fyssas crossed and Lymberopoulos outjumped the Ionikos defense to head in the game’s only goal. In the 56th, Panathinaikos keeper Antonis Nikopolidis made a key save against a shot from Angelos Vilanakis. In the dying minutes of the game, Ionikos made desperate efforts to level the score and had a goal controversially disallowed after a goalmouth scramble. In its match against defending league champions Olympiakos, lowly Akratitos took an unexpected lead after Christos Iliopoulos exploited a serious mistake by goalie Fanis Kateryiannakis in the third minute. Kateryiannakis rushed out of his area to head away the ball but did not jump high enough. Faced with an open goal, Iliopoulos easily scored. The Piraeus team immediately counterattacked but the hosts’ Egyptian goalkeeper Ibrahim Nader kept his side ahead with a handful of spectacular saves. Four minutes before the interval, Predrag Djordjevic crossed into the Akratitos area, the ball deflected off a defender and Brazilian forward Giovanni fired in the equalizer. In the 69th minute, Giovanni gave Olympiakos a 2-1 lead and three minutes later Ghanaian forward Peter Oforiquaye stretched it to 3-1. Nikos Iordanidis, who moved to Akratitos from OFI in the January transfer period, temporarily narrowed the lead to 3-2 in the 79th. Giovanni celebrated his hat trick three minutes later, after picking up the ball in his own half and dribbling past several players for an outstanding goal. It was his seventh league goal of the season. Alexis Alexandris made the final score 5-2 one minute before the final whistle. (AP)