Panathinakos back in title fight as main rivals stumble

International midfielder Costas Katsouranis grabbed a 57th minute goal yesterday to help AEK salvage a 1-1 draw against Panionios, but the Athens club failed to reduce the difference from Greek first-division leader Olympiakos. The draw favored Panathinaikos, which moved into second place in the 16-team standings after its 5-1 home victory over struggling Apollon Kalamaria on Saturday. Olympiakos, which drew 0-0 against Xanthi in Piraeus Saturday, has 41 points from 18 games, five points ahead of Panathinaikos and six ahead of AEK. In other action Sunday: OFI 3, Kerkyra 1; Kallithea 3, Halkidona 1; Ionikos 1, Aegaleo 1 and Iraklis 1, PAOK 0. Also on Saturday, Aris 1 Ergotelis 1. Playing without spectators because of fan violence last month, Panionios took an early lead through a curling free kick by Costas Kiassos in the 8th minute. AEK soon regained its composure and nearly leveled in the 34th when an erroneous back header from Aris Galanopoulos forced a spectacular save by Panionios goalkeeper Jaroslav Drobny. Panionios remained a threat on the counterattack and could have doubled its lead in the 41st when Czech striker Mario Breska fired just past Dionysis Hiotis’s left post. AEK pressed hard after the interval and managed to level in the 57th when Katsouranis caught Panionios’s defense napping to fire home after linking up with a Nikos Lymberopoulos free kick. The match turned into a dramatic affair thereafter, with both sides missing chances at either end of the pitch. Olympiakos and Panathinaikos played Saturday to earn an extra day’s rest and preparation ahead of next week’s UEFA Cup matches. Xanthi, which handed Olympiakos its only loss of the season in the first round, was content to counterattack and remained in fourth place, 11 points back. Olympiakos, without four key players through suspension and injury, relied heavily on Brazilian pair Giovanni and Rivaldo and Yiannis Okkas, who threatened but created few scoring chances. Olympiakos had its first good opportunity in the 39th minute when the unmarked Gabriel Schurrer headed Rivaldo’s curling free kick over the bar. Xanthi’s best chance came in second-half injury time, when Alexandros Garpozis shot wide with only goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis to beat. Yiannis Goumas gave Panathinaikos the lead in the 19th with a powerful header off a corner from Markus Muench and Fanis Gekas tallied his first since joining the Athens club in January, latching on to a clever header by Michalis Constantinou in the 30th minute. Konstantinou added his first of the day in the minute before halftime, tapping in a cross by Gekas. The Cyprus striker netted his ninth of the season in the 50th and Gekas earned his second five minutes later. Silva Cleyton scored Apollon’s consolation goal seconds before the final whistle. (AP)

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