SPORTS

Olympiakos fends off AEK challenge for cup final berth

Despite dominating both play and ball possession, Olympiakos needed to go into extra time to crack a stubborn 10-man AEK side in last night’s return-leg Greek Cup semifinal match for a place in next month’s final. A 2-1 win at home for the Piraeus club last night, combined with its 1-0 away win in the first leg, gave Olympiakos a 3-1 aggregate score, but proceedings were not as smooth as the result suggests. AEK striker Nikos Lymberopoulos stunned the capacity home crowd – just over 30,000 fans – by putting his club ahead in the 42nd minute with a precision close-range shot after being fed by captain Costas Katsouranis. With no more scoring during regular time and the aggregate score stuck at 1-1, the match went into extra time. Six minutes into this 30-minute period, Olympiakos took the lead with an own goal from AEK’s Vangelis Moras. Olympiakos striker artfully dribbled his way through AEK’s left side of defense and darted in a low cross that met with the AEK player’s extended foot and beat his own keeper. Olympiakos’s equalizer was enough to get the Piraeus club through to the final. Striker Yiannakis Okkas, however, sealed the prospect two minutes from time with a sweetly struck shot from the side. In the Greek Cup’s other semifinal return leg, played earlier in the evening, Aris, threatened by relegation from the first division, staged a major upset by depriving league power Xanthi of a place in the final. Aris had lost its semifinal’s first leg 2-1 at home, but rebounded to shock Xanthi 2-0 at its home ground. Besides its place in the cup final, to be played in Patras in western Greece on May 21, struggling Aris could now also end up with a highly unanticipated bonus: a berth in next season’s UEFA Cup competition. Should Aris produce another surprise and win the Greek Cup, its UEFA Cup place would be guaranteed. A loss in the final, too, could lead the Thessaloniki club to European club-level competition next season, but the team’s fate would then depend on the results of others at the league’s top end. Returning to the Olympiakos-AEK encounter, a stone-throwing incident was reported prior to the game. A group of Olympiakos fans threw stones at AEK fans traveling to Karaiskaki Stadium by train. Several minor injuries were reported. Some 1,200 AEK fans, including club president and ex-player Demis Nikolaidis among the hardcore visiting fans, attended. The tension was not missing from the pitch either. Several AEK players were shown the yellow card. AEK’s Julio Cesar was sent off with a second yellow card after 56 minutes for a dangerous tackle on Ieroklis Stoltidis. Olympiakos meets Aris in the cup final on May 21 in Patras.