Despite injuries, AEK stays on top

Vassilis Lakis grabbed a first-half goal yesterday to give injury-plagued AEK a 1-0 win over Ethnikos Asteras in a Greek first division soccer league game. It was AEK’s 12th win of the season and the Athens club retained top position in the 14-team standings. It also regained its two-point lead which was narrowed to one last week. In the round’s upset, Panathinaikos was held to a scoreless draw by last-place Panachaiki in Patras on Saturday, slipping to third place with 34 points, but remaining in title contention. Panathinaikos, which beat Sparta 2-0 in Prague Tuesday in the Champions League, saw its streak of seven league wins end and fell a point behind archrivals Olympiakos. Olympiakos, the five-time defending champions, beat Ionikos 2-0 away with goals from Stelios Yiannacopoulos and Alexis Alexandris. In other action yesterday it was: Akratitos 1, OFI 2; Aegaleo 2, Iraklis 1; Xanthi 1, Aris 0, and Panionios 1, PAOK 1. AEK started the match with four key players, including forwards Demis Nikolaidis and Ilija Ivic sidelined by injury. Things got even worse for AEK’s Portuguese coach Fernando Santos when another two players, midfielders Vassilis Tsartas and Andreas Zikos, left the pitch early in the game with injuries. The absences could hurt AEK’s clash against Internazionale for the UEFA Cup in Athens on Thursday. The Italian powerhouse beat AEK 3-1 in the first-leg in Milan last Thursday. AEK overcame its problems and dominated the match against Ethnikos Asteras throughout the game. In the 40th minute, Lakis sprinted down the right wing and dribbled past two defenders to mark the game’s only goal. In the 68th, Dimos Papathanassiou nearly evened the score when his shot was cleared by Nikos Giorgias. On Saturday, Panathinaikos played a dull game against Panachaiki, disappointing more than 7,000 supporters who traveled to the western city of Patras. Panathinaikos had hoped for an easy win against the lowly hosts, and coach Sergio Markarian rested many regular starters ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League game against Sparta in Athens. Except for a scoring opportunity for each team, both Panathinaikos and Panachaiki played an unexciting and action-free game. A shot by Nenad Vukcevic in the opening minutes of the game hit Panathinaikos’s bar. And in the 61st minute, a goal-bound header by Takis Fyssas was cleared by Panachaiki’s Giorgos Mitsiopoulos. Toward the end, the visitors claimed a penalty when Giorgos Karagounis said he was fouled in the area, but the referee did not agree. (AP)

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