Cup ties a wide open affair

The Greek Cup’s eight remaining contestants go to battle today for their semifinal berths, but, judging by the first-leg quarterfinal results, one can only consider its place in the next round close to certain. Xanthi, a 2-0 winner, away, against the second division’s Ilisiakos, holds an undeniable, and probably insurmountable, advantage ahead of today’s return leg at home. The fates of all other semifinal aspirants remain undetermined. Defending champion Olympiakos, the Super League’s breakaway frontrunner, goes into its return leg at home, needing to overcome a 2-0 against PAS Yiannina, the second division’s other surviving cup challenger. Olympiakos’s crucial cup encounter comes just days ahead of a major league game on Sunday against AEK, tied in second place with Panathinaikos, eight points behind. Theoretically, a win for Olympiakos would all but eclipse AEK’s hopes for the league title. «We have a difficult game against Yiannina in the cup. We lost 2-0 in the first leg, so we have no choice but to seek the result we need,» said Olympiakos captain Predrag Djordjevic. «If we defeat AEK on Sunday, one of our two main challengers will have exited the league’s title battle. Then we’ll have Panathinaikos to play at home, so it will all depend on us.» AEK’s injured Brazilian midfielder Emerson is not expected to have regained his fitness on time for the weekend’s league clash against Olympiakos. Key midfielder Akis Zikos, however, will be back from injury, and new signing Pantelis Kafes is expected to make his AEK debut against his former club. Returning to today’s cup action, Panathinaikos will host Thessaloniki club PAOK needing to overcome a 2-1 loss in the northern city. They meet again, in Thessaloniki this Saturday, for a league match. Panathinaikos striker Dimitris Salpiggidis, formerly of PAOK, described both games as do-or-die affairs for his team. «They’re both tough games. Our first objective is to make the cup’s next round. Then there’s a difficult away game, but as things currently stand for us, we need to look at how we’re going to win each game because we’re in contention for all,» said Salpiggidis. The cup’s other return-leg quarterfinal brings together Larissa and visiting Corfu club Kerkyra following a scoreless draw in their first game.

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