Race narrows at the top of the Greek soccer championship

Substitute Christos Maladenis scored in the 62nd minute at Xanthi yesterday to clinch a 1-1 draw for AEK in a game for the first division soccer league. The result kept AEK at the top of the 14-team standings, with 34 points. But its two-point lead was narrowed to one, and the league contest is the closest in years. Panathinaikos moved to second place, with 33 points from 16 games. It beat Akratitos on Saturday, 1-0, with a 34th-minute goal from Greek-Cypriot Michalis Constantinou. And defending champion Olympiakos Piraeus moved a point ahead of PAOK to gain third place with 32 points, after beating the Thessaloniki club 3-2 on Sunday. Olympiakos hammered in three goals within eight minutes of the first half. In other action it was: OFI 0, Panionios 0; Ethnikos Asteras 1, Panachaiki 1; and Aris 1, Aegaleo 0. On Saturday, Iraklis defeated Ionikos 3-0. Xanthi’s tight pressing in midfield frustrated AEK’s players who failed to produce a single clear scoring chance in the first period. In the 38th minute, Moroccan striker Abdelrahim Ouakili, sprinted down the left wing, dribbled past a defender and fired the ball past keeper Dionyssis Chiotis to give Xanthi the lead. The hosts fell back to preserve the score after the rest period, and the visitors launched a series of attacks. Maladenis, who replaced star striker Demis Nikolaidis in the 32nd minute, sent a header over the bar from two meters in the 57th. But five minutes later, he scored the equalizer off a cross from Vassilis Lakis. Xanthi’s Slovakian goalkeeper Jurai Bucek made a series of decisive saves to avert another goal by the Athens squad. Olympiakos stunned PAOK in the early stages of the game, played before 45,000 spectators at Athens’ Olympic stadium. The Piraeus club went ahead in the 9th, with forward Giovanni. The Brazilian set up another four minutes later, when Stelios Yiannacopoulos made it 2-0. And in the 16th, Predrag Djordjevic stretched it to 3-0 off a pass from Stelios Venetidis. PAOK regained some of its form in the second period but only narrowed the difference with goals from Giorgos Georgiadis, who scored in the 54th and converted a penalty three minutes later. (AP)

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