Panathinaikos draws closer to league title

After a week off for Orthodox Easter, Greek first division soccer resumed yesterday with Panathinaikos hammering OFI Crete 5-1 at home, with a hat trick by Nikos Lymberopoulos. Croatian striker Goran Vlaovic and Pandelis Constantinidis scored the other two goals for Panathinaikos. After its 21st league win of the season, the Athens club remains in first place with 67 points from 28 games. Archrival Olympiakos stays three points behind in second place after beating Ioannina 3-0 away. Yugoslav midfielder Predrag Djordjevic scored twice. In the next round – the penultimate – Panathinaikos and Olympiakos will clash in the most important game of the season. The showdown at Olympiakos could decide the league champion. In other results yesterday it was: Xanthi 3, Kallithea 0; Ionikos 2, Iraklis 4; Proodeftiki 1, Panachaiki 0, and Aegaleo 3, Akratitos 1. Third-place AEK is just two points behind Olympiakos after beating Aris 4-0 on Saturday. The Athens team has not given up hope of being league runners-up and earning an automatic place in the Champions League. Panathinaikos played against OFI without some of its regular starters, including Polish striker Emmanuel Olisadebe and goalie Antonis Nikopolidis. Uruguayan coach Sergio Markarian decided to rest them for next week’s derby against Olympiakos. Vlaovic, who has spent most of the season on the bench, gave Panathinaikos the lead with a curling free kick from outside the area in the 13th minute. Just one minute later, Lymberopoulos exploited a defensive error to make it 2-0 with a blistering shot. Four minutes into the second half, Lymberopoulos converted a penalty to stretch the score to 3-0. In the 63rd minute, he struck again to make it 4-0. The hat trick means he stays the first division’s top scorer this season with 16 goals. Constantinidis added a fifth for Panathinaikos in the 74th. Costas Dermitzakis grabbed OFI’s consolation goal in the 89th. Olympiakos took a fifth-minute lead against Ioannina with a free kick from Djordjevic. The same player made it 2-0 off a perfect pass from Swedish midfielder Par Zetterberg in the 19th. French international Christian Karembeu closed the scoring with a close-range shot in the 72nd minute. On Saturday, AEK marked its 10th consecutive league victory after trouncing Aris 4-0 to maintain third place with 62 points. Toward the end of the match, AEK supporters tossed broken seats at riot police guarding about 100 Aris fans. No arrests or injuries were reported. Costas Katsouranis opened the scoring in the 12th with a header off a precise free kick from Vassilis Tsartas. In the 30th, Vassilis Lakis made it 2-0 for AEK and then scored his second goal of the game in first-half injury time. Yugoslav striker Ilja Ivic made the final score 4-0 in the 77th. The match was the last one to be played at AEK’s home ground, the Nikos Goumas Stadium, after some 73 years. Demolition works due to start in March were delayed by bureaucratic wrangling. A new stadium will be built on the same site and is expected to be ready shortly before the start of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Also on Saturday, PAOK defeated Panionios 3-0 with two goals from Giorgos Georgiadis. The win made the cash-strapped Thessaloniki club a favorite to win a place in the UEFA Cup. The game was played in Kozani, northwestern Greece. It was PAOK’s eighth match this season either behind closed doors or away as punishment for fan violence. (AP)

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