Panathinaikos maintains lead

Croatian striker Goran Vlaovic grabbed one goal and Cypriot forward Michalis Constantinou added another as Panathinaikos beat Ionikos 2-0 at home to retain a one-point lead in the Greek first division Saturday. Both goals came in the last eight minutes as Panathinaikos desperately went for victory. Panathinaikos now has 13 points from five games, followed by defending champions Olympiakos Piraeus with 12 points, also from five games. Olympiakos beat Xanthi 3-1 away on Saturday with two penalties converted by Predrag Djordjevic. Despite two goals by Grigoris Georgatos, AEK lost ground after a 2-2 draw against Panionios, and dropped to fourth place with nine points. PAOK, 4-1 away winner over Paniliakos yesterday, is now third with ten. In the fifth round’s remaining games, played yesterday, it was: Proodeftiki-Akratitos, 1-1; Aegaleo-Iraklis, 2-0; and Halkidona-Kallithea, 1-1. The round’s final game, between Aris and OFI, began late last night. If Aris wins, it will be level with arch-rival PAOK. Panathinaikos, Olympiakos and AEK all played on Saturday in view of their Champions League matches tomorrow and Wednesday. Panathinaikos controlled play throughout but it was some 82 minutes before Vlaovic, who came off the bench in the 60th, opened the scoring. Four minutes later, Romanian midfielder Lucian Sanmartean dribbled past three players and crossed to Constantinou who easily made it 2-0 from close range. For most of the match, Panathinaikos faced serious difficulties in penetrating Ionikos’s well-organized defense. Defender Sotiris Kyrgiakos came close to scoring in the 36th but his shot from only two meters hit Ionikos’s crossbar. A second golden opportunity was missed by Dimitris Papadopoulos whose penalty shot sailed high over Arian Beqaj’s bar in the 40th. Defense-minded Ionikos had a single scoring chance in the 84th when Antoni Simone’s shot from inside the area went wide. Olympiakos made a sluggish start in Xanthi and only ended the first half without conceding a goal thanks to goalkeeper Fanis Katergiannakis who made two excellent saves against Austrian striker Gunter Friesenblicher. Olympiakos became more aggressive in the second half. It took the lead with Djordjevic’s first goal from the spot after keeper Patrice Grandel had fouled Uruguayan striker Alberto Castillo in the 72nd. Xanthi leveled with a shot by Platon Karakatsan after a melee in front of Kateryiannakis’s goalmouth in the 80th. In the second minute of injury time, a controversial penalty decision allowed Djordjevic to again give his team the lead. One minute later, Takis Gonias made the final score 3-1 off a cross from Castillo. AEK had the upper hand in the opening minutes of its game against Panionios. It was denied an opening goal in the fourth minute when Mico Smiljanic stopped a blistering shot by Georgatos from inside the box. The game was played at Panionios’s Nea Smyrni ground, which is also being used this season by AEK, whose Nikos Goumas Stadium is scheduled to be rebuilt. Panionios nearly scored in the 41st when Dionysis Hiotis made a decisive save against a shot from Cristian Pino. But two minutes later, Alain Raguel put Panionios ahead with a rocket from outside the area. Georgatos leveled with a close-range shot in the 60th. Panionios went ahead 2-1 in the 75th after AEK’s Costas Katsouranis accidentally headed a cross by Panionios’s midfielder Stavros Tziortzopoulos into his own net. Seconds before the end of the match, Georgatos struck again with a ground-hugging free kick from the edge of the box to make the final score 2-2. (AP)

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