SPORTS

‘Mother of all battles’ is looming

Dubbed the ”league final”, the clash of eternal Greek soccer rivals Olympiakos and Panathinaikos is likely to decide the destination of the title for the season, when the two sides meet on Saturday, February 19 at the Karaiskaki Stadium in Piraeus.

The Reds have a seven-point lead at the top of the Super League with eight games left to play, which means that a draw should be good enough for them to bring the title back to Piraeus after a year’s absence.

The Greens, on the other hand, know that anything but a victory will mean an end to their hopes of retaining the silverware they acquired last spring after six years of waiting. Victory at the hostile Karaiskakis Stadium will take them within four points from the top and they have a better head-to-head record, which will work in their favor if the two sides finish level on points at the end of the season.

The 2-1 win for Panathinaikos in the first match between the two rivals in November seems a long time ago, but may offer some insight as to what we can expect during what the always hyberbolic Greek sports press has referred to as the ”mother of all battles”.

Olympiakos will aim to put pressure on the Panathinaikos defense through its two-pronged attack of Kevin Mirallas and Rafik Djebbour, with in-form midfielder David Fuster being coach Ernesto Valverde’s secret weapon. The Spaniard has a full squad to choose from for Saturday’s game, which kicks of at 7.30 p.m.

Visiting Panathinaikos, however, is set to be deprived of some of its key players such as central defender Jean Alain Boumsong and winger Lazaros Christodoulopoulos due to injury, while midfielders Costas Katsouranis and Sotiris Ninis have also missed some of the week’s training.

Panathinaikos coach Jesualdo Ferreira is contemplating using Sidney Govou despite the Frenchman’s poor performances this season, as the Portuguese manager is hoping the Frenchman can spring some good counterattacks.

Tickets for the match sold out on the very first day they went on sale, which was nine days before kickoff. Attendance at the game has been restricted to just home fans, like all Greek derbies in the last few years.

Notably, the climate before the game between the two sides has been unusually good, partly because Olympiakos owner Vangelis Marinakis made it clear he wanted all focus be on the game itself and not on fans, referees or other off-the-field matters, and partly because the vocal former president of Panathinaikos, Nikolas Pateras, is no more at the club’s helm.

Instead, the run-up to the derby has focused on the sartorial tastes of Panathinaikos striker Djibril Cisse, who took part in a midweek social event in a skirt, and on the bust-up between Boumsong and teammate Sebastian Leto at the Panathinaikos training camp.

The match will be screened live on television on NET and ERT World, and on the Internet on www.woop.gr in High Definition.