AEK still in hot pursuit of Panathinaikos

AEK’s Brazilian duo Alexandre Soares and Julio Cesar grabbed a goal each to help the Athens squad beat Xanthi 2-1 yesterday to remain in hot pursuit of first-division league leader Panathinaikos. After 26 rounds, AEK retained second place with 55 points, one behind Panathinaikos, which beat Ergotelis 3-1 Saturday. Second-half goals from Nery Castillo and Brazilian star Rivaldo gave Olympiakos a 2-0 win over Apollon Kalamaria in Thessaloniki to remain in third place with 53 points. Also yesterday, it was: Kerkyra 0, Kallithea 1; Halkidona 0, Ionikos 1; Aegaleo 2, Aris 1, and PAOK 4, OFI 1. AEK charged forward from the start, taking the lead in the 19th minute with a shot by Soares from the 6-yard area off a perfect pass from Vangelis Moras. It was Soares’s 11th goal of the season. Xanthi, chasing a berth in the UEFA Cup, leveled against the run of play in the 39th through a penalty kick by Luciano de Sousa after Eduardo Alves handled the ball in the box. Costas Katsouranis failed to convert a penalty kick in the 45th, but AEK restored its lead in the 46th through Cesar. The Brazilian slalomed past Xanthi’s defense and found the net with a blistering angled shot. Both teams had shots on the post in the second half. Olympiakos was almost stunned in the fifth minute by Apollon Kalamaria when Dimitris Petkakis’s close-range shot forced a double save by Antonis Nikopolidis. Olympiakos missed its best chance in the 30th when Giovanni failed to score with only goalkeeper Dimitris Karatziovalis to beat. Apollon Kalamaria, which remains in the relegation zone, nearly took the lead in the 35th when a shot by Haris Papas was cleared off the line by Tassos Pantos. Castillo, who replaced Milos Maric in the 54th, broke the deadlock for Olympiakos 10 minutes later. Grigoris Georgatos’s low drive was blocked by Karatziovalis, but the ball rebounded perfectly for the Uruguayan to tap in. Rivaldo made it the final 2-0 in the 89th after latching on to a clever pass from Castillo. Panathinaikos, playing Saturday, beat Cretan host Ergotelis 3-1 with goals from Fanis Gekas, Michalis Constantinou and Ezequiel Gonzalez. Panathinaikos, needing a victory to remain on course for its second straight title, controlled the match from kickoff. The defending champions took the lead in the 25th minute when Gekas scored off a through ball from Dimitris Papadopoulos. It was Gekas’s 16th goal of the season. Ergotelis, newly promoted but stuck in the relegation zone, equalized a minute before halftime when Jean Marie Sylla danced past two defenders and unleashed a powerful strike past goalkeeper Mario Galinovic. The goal ended Panathinaikos’s seven-match run without conceding a goal. In the 55th, Constantinou put Panathinaikos ahead with his 12th goal of the season off a perfect pass from Markus Muench. Ergotelis almost leveled in the 70th when Sylla’s pinpoint cross landed in the path of Patrick Ogynsoto, but the Nigerian’s shot was saved by Galinovic. Gonzalez broke through the Ergotelis defense in the 75th to score the final goal. In Saturday’s other match, Thessaloniki club Iraklis beat host Panionios 2-1. (AP)

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