Panathinaikos continues winning streak

Cypriot striker Michalis Constantinou struck twice and set up another goal as Panathinaikos beat Iraklis 3-0 in Thessaloniki yesterday to retain its one-point lead at the top of Greek soccer’s first division. Panathinaikos won comfortably despite the absence of four regular starters, sidelined because of injuries. After 25 rounds, Panathinaikos has 58 points, one ahead of archrival Olympiakos, which came back from 1-0 down to beat last-place Panachaiki 4-1 in Patras yesterday. Although it played with only 10 men for 82 minutes, AEK defeated Proodeftiki 4-1 at home on Saturday to keep third place with 53 points. A one-minute silence for victims of the ongoing war in Iraq was observed before all first and second division games over the weekend. In other results yesterday it was: Xanthi 3, Ioannina 3; OFI 1, Panionios 1 and Kallithea 2, Aegaleo 1. On Saturday, Aris beat Akratitos 4-1, and struggling Ionikos humiliated PAOK by trouncing the Thessaloniki club 4-0. PAOK was one of the four major league contenders at the beginning of the season but its 13-4-8 record has disappointed supporters, considered among the most fanatical in Greek soccer. PAOK is in fifth place with 43 points, some 15 points behind league leader Panathinaikos. Iraklis charged forward from kickoff in the match against Panathinaikos. The hosts nearly scored in the 38th minute when Ieroklis Stoltidis’s blistering shot from the edge of the box was stopped by Panathinaikos keeper Antonis Nikopolidis. After one hour of play, Panathinaikos went ahead, thanks to Constantinou. The striker took advantage of a penalty area scramble after a misunderstanding between Iraklis goalie Costas Halkias and defender Anastasis Katsambis. Ten minutes later, Daniel Saric’s cross found Constantinou close to Halkias’s goalmouth. Constantinou passed to Nikos Lymberopoulos, who easily made it 2-0. It was Lymberopoulos’s 12th league goal of the season. Constantinou, who used to play for Iraklis, sealed the victory with his second goal in the 75th. The 5,000 Olympiakos fans who traveled to the western city of Patras saw last-placed Panachaiki take the lead in the 30th with a close-range shot by Nikos Skarmoutsos. The hosts, whose future in the first division looks extremely doubtful, managed to keep its lead until the 60th when Ghanaian striker Peter Oforiquaye leveled with a header off a center from Yugoslav midfielder Predrag Djordjevic. Needing victory to remain close to Panathinaikos, Olympiakos launched consecutive attacks as Panachaiki fell back to preserve the tie. The inevitable happened in the 69th when Djordjevic’s free kick from outside the area went straight into keeper Yiannis Baltimas’s left corner. The rest of the game was an easy affair for the visitors. Swedish midfielder Par Zetterberg increased the lead to 3-1 in the 84th and Brazilian forward Giovanni made the final result 4-1 in the 90th. On Saturday, AEK’s captain Michalis Kassapis left his team with 10 players in only the eighth minute after being expelled for handling the ball in his own area. Costas Mangos converted the penalty for Proodeftiki. Hosts AEK squandered at least four chances until the 48th when defender Vangelis Moras scored an own goal after a melee in front of Proodeftiki’s goalmouth to make it 1-1. AEK dominated the rest of the match and it was only a matter of time before it went ahead. In the 67th, Vassilis Borbokis scored off a pass from Vassilis Tsartas. Six minutes later, Yugoslav striker Ilja Ivic gave a backheel pass to Tsartas who made it 3-1 with a lob from close range. Ivic, by far the game’s best player, made the final score 4-1 to AEK two minutes into injury time. (AP)