From rejection to the top

Panathinaikos striker Dimitris Papadopoulos has his sights on doubles with both club and country only a year after being rejected. He could complete the first leg on Sunday by winning the Greek championship before leading the line for Greece at Euro 2004 and the Athens Olympics. Panathinaikos’s top scorer, who only last year was rejected by struggling English first-division club Burnley, has already led them to Greek Cup success after scoring once and creating a second goal in a 3-1 win over local rivals Olympiakos. If his strike rate continues against lowly Proodeftiki on Sunday, the green half of Athens could celebrate their first league title in eight years. Second-placed Olympiakos need a home win over Aris to take the title race into the last round of the season. What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago the 22-year-old striker was warming the bench at Burnley’s Turf Moor stadium as they tried to avoid relegation. With Olympic and under-21 commitments looming, Burnley let the forward go to Panathinaikos for a reported half of the 500,000 pounds sterling they paid Greek club Akratitos two years earlier. With Panathinaikos looking to break local rivals Olympiakos’s seven-year stranglehold on the Greek league, supporters were underwhelmed with their new capture. But the pacey forward quickly dislodged Nigerian-born Poland international Emmanuel Olisadebe and served notice of his ability with two goals away to OFI in August. The goals kept coming and Panathinaikos’s revival continued, forcing Greece coach Otto Rehhagel to take note with a call-up to the senior squad in November. Papadopoulos’s first start two months later against Bulgaria impressed Rehhagel, and with a place in the squad for Portugal beckoning the striker has enjoyed a storming end of season with nine goals in 10 league matches. Three more in the latter stages of the Greek Cup have helped perennial runners-up Panathinaikos keep their nerve and hold off the challenge of champions Olympiakos. With only two matches remaining against bottom-table opposition, Panathinaikos are widely tipped in the local media to complete the double. That should only be the start of an exciting summer for Papadopoulos, whose turn of speed in an otherwise pedestrian frontline featuring Atletico Madrid’s Demis Nikolaidis and Werder Bremen’s Angelos Haristeas is a vital weapon. The in-form forward is almost certain to be a key player in the Greek Olympic team on home soil.

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