Olympics-grade stadium may be unfit for soccer’s cup final

Highlighting Greek soccer’s ongoing inability to cleanse the game of hooliganism, police authorities have demanded security-related revisions to an Olympics-grade stadium that was built for the 2004 Athens Games and has now been chosen to host this season’s cup final early in May. The sport’s federation chief, Vassilis Gagatsis, said yesterday that regional police authorities covering the coastal city of Volos – just over 300 kilometers north of Athens, where the stadium is located – called for several infrastructure revisions, the most crucial being the installment of barriers in the stands to keep rival fans apart. Should the requirements not be met by Greek Olympic Properties, the venue’s managing agency, the cup final, scheduled for May 5, would be staged elsewhere, Gagatsis said. He gave no further information about a prospective alternative venue. As the competition’s draw has turned out, archrivals Olympiakos, the defending champion, and Panathinaikos, both through to the quarterfinals, would meet in the final if they manage to get there. Olympiakos and Thessaloniki team PAOK, another possible pairing, share a notorious past for clashes between their fans, fueled by a north-versus-south brand of hatred. Fan concerns had also made negative impact on last season’s final to turn the game’s lead up into a tragicomic affair. An extraordinary coordination effort was needed to assure that rival Olympiakos and AEK fans sailing to Crete, where the final was held, were on separate vessels. This was accomplished, but disgruntled fans of AEK, the losing finalist, caused damages on board while returning to Piraeus port. Back to this season’s cup, fifth-round action leading to the quarterfinals was completed last night with two replays. Kerkyra beat host Ionikos 2-1 while Larissa, at home, ended formidable OFI’s cup hopes with a 3-1 score in an exciting game. The quarterfinal draw, held yesterday, paired PAOK and Panathinaikos, the round’s biggest clash. Second-division team PAS Yiannina plays Olympiakos. Ilisiakos, the cup’s other surviving division two team, meets Xanthi. Kerkyra will confront Larissa. Converting from knockout solitary games in the previous rounds, cup play will now carry on with home-and-away ties, scheduled for January 17 and 31, all the way to May’s final.

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