League’s top two clash on Sunday
Tied at the top of the standings with just six rounds of play remaining, Panathinaikos and Olympiakos clash this Sunday night at the former’s home ground in an encounter that could well determine the first division’s outcome this season. Olympiakos, which beat its perennial rival and defending champion 1-0 earlier this season, holds a slight advantage at the top with a better head-to-head record. Both teams have accumulated 50 points apiece after 24 rounds. They are not alone though, with AEK, the season’s surprise, just a point behind, despite repeated claims by the club that the current season is only preparation for a bigger future. Prior to the season’s start, AEK needed to overcome administrative wrangles as well as the financial woes that threatened to toss the historic side into amateur competition. This weekend AEK hosts PAOK, placed fourth but a distant eight points behind its opponent. Returning to the Panathinaikos-Olympiakos encounter, the visiting Piraeus side will be without midfielder Pantelis Kafes and Argentinean defender Gabriel Schurrer, both sidelined by injury. Schurrer’s absence was confirmed after Wednesday’s practice session when the Argentinean was unable to join the rest of the squad. Also missing for Olympiakos on Sunday will be support from the stands. As was also the case in the first meeting at Olympiakos’s Karaiskaki Stadium earlier this season, away fans have been barred from attending for security reasons. In other remaining big matches this season, Panathinaikos faces back-to-back battles, beginning with PAOK in Thessaloniki in Round 28 of the 30-round competition, and followed by AEK at home one round from the finale. In the final round, Panathinaikos travels to Crete to take on OFI, a team that it has, traditionally, had little trouble disposing of, while Olympiakos travels to Thessaloniki to play Iraklis, currently mid-placed. AEK will greet lowly Apollon Kalamaria, now hovering just above the relegation zone.