PAOK ousted from UEFA Cup

Thessaloniki club PAOK, the northern city’s biggest team in terms of popularity and success, was barred from taking part in the upcoming season’s UEFA Cup competition after soccer’s governing body in Europe ruled that required financial guarantees had been submitted too late, EPO, the Greek soccer federation, announced yesterday. Besides coming as a serious blow for PAOK at a time when the financially troubled club is seeking a deal for new ownership, the verdict was also embarrassing for the Greek soccer federation, which, in preceding days, had informed UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, that PAOK had satisfied the prerequisites for UEFA Cup participation. In such situations, the European governing body for soccer accepts verdicts issued by domestic federations. But, in an unprecedented development, UEFA has overruled EPO’s ruling, which severely tarnishes the local body’s reputation, both locally and abroad. The announcement was made on the EPO website, which last week gave the Thessaloniki club the green light to play in the UEFA Cup after it received a 6-million-euro guarantee from the National Bank of Greece. According to sources, EPO reacted to UEFA’s decision by contacting the governing body and questioning its assessment ahead of the verdict. EPO, in a statement, asked why the governing body did not send officials to Greece for a joint, on-the-spot analysis of PAOK’s situation before deciding. PAOK ended sixth in last season’s Greek first division to qualify for the UEFA Cup. The Thessaloniki team’s ban brings seventh-place Atromitos into the picture as the Greek team that will replace PAOK in the UEFA Cup. Larissa, which finished eighth, will replace Atromitos in the Intertoto Cup, a pan-European summertime competition that leads to UEFA Cup berths for clubs that missed out on qualifying through domestic competition. Officials at PAOK were stunned by the announcement of UEFA’s verdict. The initial response was to consider lodging an appeal with the supreme sports tribunal. Last night, it was still unclear whether the club would take such a legal course. The financially troubled club must also deal with the pressure of retaining one of its star players, international striker Dimitris Salpiggidis, last season’s top scorer in the Greek first division, who has filed a case against the club for payment of unpaid fees or release from the club. PAOK officials fear that if Salpiggidis departs, other roster members are likely to follow suit. Major Athens clubs, as well as Portuguese team Benfica, which recently hired ex-AEK coach Fernando Santos, are reportedly interested in acquiring the player. A former PAOK coach and player, Angelos Anastassiadis, whose current professional commitment, the Cypriot national team’s coaching job, has not taken his heart and mind off his beloved club, yesterday suggested that the Thessaloniki club stage a fund-raising concert at its Toumba Stadium as financial remedy. Anastassiadis made the suggestion on local radio.

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