Olympiakos keeps its narrow lead

With two first-half goals, Olympiakos beat Xanthi 2-1 away yesterday to retain the top spot in Greece’s first division soccer league. French star Christian Karembeu netted his first goal of the season and Ghanaian striker Peter Oforiquaye, in his first appearance since November, added another to mark Olympiakos’s 12th league victory. After 19 of 26 rounds, Olympiakos retains the lead with 41 points, one ahead of AEK. AEK beat OFI Crete 3-0 at home yesterday, with two goals by Vassilis Lakis. The round’s loser was Panathinaikos, which was held to a scoreless draw by Aris in Thessaloniki on Saturday. Panathinaikos retains third place in the 14-team standings with 38 points, but has lost ground in the title race. In other action yesterday it was: Panionios 2, Ionikos 2; Aegaleo 2, PAOK 1; Ethnikos Asteras 1, Iraklis 2, and Panachaiki 1, Akratitos 1. Olympiakos dominated play for long spells of the game played in the northern town of Xanthi. The hosts took the lead with a header by Spyros Vallas in the 15th minute. But Olympiakos quickly leveled, with Karembeu grabbing a goal six minutes later. Xanthi’s Slovakian keeper Jurai Bucek stopped several shots from Olympiakos players. But he could not avert a goal by Oforiquaye, who scored off a cross from Brazilian striker Giovanni in the 41st minute. Xanthi, struggling to gain a berth in the UEFA Cup next season, fought hard in the second half to level, but goalkeeper Dimitris Eleftheropoulos was unyielding. Olympiakos finished the match with nine players and Xanthi with 10. Giovanni saw his second yellow card in the 83rd. Karembeu and Xanthi’s Vangelis Kaounos were also red-carded seconds before the end of the game. AEK, playing at home, had very little difficulty in beating OFI 3-0. National squad striker Demis Nikolaidis gave AEK the lead in the seventh minute and Lakis made it 2-0 in the 58th. In the 90th minute, Lakis struck again, gaining the ball in OFI’s area to mark his sixth goal of the season. The visitors had two scoring opportunities, but goalie Dionysis Chiotis made stunning saves to stop both shots. Panathinaikos, which faces Porto tomorrow in a Champions League game in Portugal, disappointed coach Sergio Markarian with its poor performance against Aris on Saturday. The Uruguayan manager had demanded that his players win all eight remaining league games. After a lackluster first half, Panathinaikos became more active and nearly scored with Panayiotis Fyssas in the 51st minute. He gained the ball after a melee in front of Aris’s goal mouth but shot wide. Nine minutes later, Costas Louboutis cleared another shot by Fyssas with goalie Theofanis Kateryiannakis out of position. The keeper salvaged the draw in second-half injury time, with an impressive fingertip save to a shot by Michalis Constantinou. Aris, playing without five key players, had its best scoring chance with Giorgos Barkoglou. The striker, one-on-one with keeper Antonis Nikopolidis, fired his shot over the crossbar.(AP)

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