Major title contenders advance by defeating lowly opponents

Ieroklis Stoltidis netted his first two goals of the season yesterday to help Olympiakos beat Halkidona 3-0 and regain its two-point lead at the top of the Greek first division. It was the 13th league win for Olympiakos, which now has 44 points from 20 games. An unconvincing Panathinaikos beat last-placed Kerkyra 1-0 at home to return to second place with 42 points, one ahead of crosstown AEK. On Thursday, Panathinaikos lost to Sevilla 2-0 and was eliminated from the UEFA Cup, while Olympiakos advanced to the last 16 of the competition by beating Sochaux 1-0. Stoltidis scored the lone goal in that match. In other games yesterday, it was: Ergotelis 0, Xanthi 2; Iraklis 1, OFI 0; and Aris 1, PAOK 3. Olympiakos, playing at home in front of an empty stadium as a sanction for crowd trouble last week, stunned Halkidona with two Stoltidis goals after only 10 minutes. The midfielder sent in Pantelis Kafes’s deflected shot in the fifth minute before adding another five minutes later with a close range shot off a pass from Giovanni. Halkidona’s hopes of getting back into the match were dashed in the 46th when Giorgos Anatolakis made it 3-0 with a header off a Predrag Djordjevic free kick. Panathinaikos was made to struggle by a defense-minded Kerkyra and had to wait until the 73rd minute to break the deadlock. Italian coach Alberto Malesani, who decided to rest three regular starters, relied on his striking duo of Fanis Gekas and Michalis Constantinou. The hosts got off to a sluggish start and had their first serious chance in the 42nd when a Miltos Sapanis shot thundered off Kerkyra’s crossbar. Gekas gained the rebound but his header went over the bar. Panathinaikos continued to dominate possession after the interval. But it was Kerkyra which almost took the lead in the 62nd when Brazilian striker Fofonka’s powerful drive went narrowly wide. After squandering a series of opportunities, Constantinou netted the winner with a fierce shot from inside the box. It was the Cyprus striker’s 10th goal of the season. Brazilian striker Julio Cesar and Vladan Ivic scored a goal each Saturday to lift AEK to a 2-1 victory at Kallithea. In other games Saturday, it was: Ionikos 0, Panionios 0; and Apollon 1, Aegaleo 1. Playing on a waterlogged pitch, AEK got off to a storming start and led 2-0 just after nine minutes. Cesar exploited a defensive error in the second and broke free inside the box to comfortably beat Kallithea goalkeeper Takis Bartzokas from close range. It was his first goal since joining AEK in the January transfer period. Kallithea had barely recovered from the shock when AEK added another seven minutes later. Vangelis Moras broke down the left and passed to the unmarked Ivic, who easily beat Bartzokas. (AP)

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