League leaders appear set for Greek Cup showdown

AEK, a pre-season favorite for the Greek title which has long seen its hopes dashed, last night suffered another setback in its only hope for the season, the Greek Cup, with a 1-0 home defeat in a first-leg semifinal against Panathinaikos. In the other semifinal, Olympiakos, playing away, ran riot against second-division club Kastoria in their first-leg encounter. The return legs are scheduled for April 21. Panathinaikos opened fiercely and after eight minutes, when defender Yiannis Goumas rose to head in the semifinal’s only goal. Olympiakos wasted little time to all but eliminate Kastoria, the Greek Cup’s surprise team. The Piraeus club had established a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes with a powerful long-range free kick from Grigoris Georgatos after 16 minutes and a second goal from striker Lambros Houtos just three minutes later. Fellow striker Marcin Kuzba added a third after the 77th with a strike from inside the box. For AEK, one of the Greek first division’s more beleaguered clubs, the Greek Cup home defeat was not the only troublesome issue in the day. FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, notified Greece’s soccer federation, EPO, that a legal case concerning unpaid fees to former player Rodrigo Feruzem, had been filed at its tribunal for financial matters. It is the second case to be filed against the Greek club at the high-level international tribunal in two days. On Tuesday, FIFA said the court would hear a case concerning fees owed to a former Italian signing, Davide Belotti, who joined AEK from Serie B side Vicenza in 2000. Should FIFA press ahead with charges, the Greek club could be barred from competing in European club-level competition, a source of considerable revenue for teams, and face relegation to domestic competition. Besides the fear of FIFA, AEK could also be punished by a domestic tribunal for outstanding fees to players. Under current regulations, clubs found unable to meet their financial responsibities can be relegated to the amateur-level fourth division. Club officials, including the team’s vice president, Petros Stathis, have publicly admitted that AEK has contemplated an attempt at persuading government officials to soften the relegation penalty for financially crippled first-division clubs by limiting their relegation to the second division instead of to the amateur league. The thought itself is a blatant measure of how desperate the Athens club is financially at present. The club’s majority shareholder, British firm ENIC, recently boosted its stake in AEK to 72 percent with the aim of financially restructuring the troubled club before selling out. Talks with a group of investors led by former player Demis Nikolaidis appear to have stagnated.

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