Panathinaikos through to cup final with win over Xanthi

An early goal from defensive midfielder Alexandros Tziolis was enough to break Xanthi’s unbeaten home run – in league play – this season and secure Panathinaikos a place in next month’s Greek Cup final. Panathinaikos, a 1-0 winner last night, went into the second leg having been confined to a scoreless draw in the semifinal’s first leg. Now drifting six points behind second-placed AEK in the Super League with just three rounds remaining, Panathinaikos’s hopes of making the Champions League’s pre-group qualifiers – earned with a second placing – have all but vanished. But a cup win would take the Athens club to the less prestigious UEFA Cup in the new season. In the Greek Cup’s other second-leg semifinal, also played last night, the tournament’s surprise team, PAS Yiannina from the second division, was eliminated by Larissa following a 2-0 home defeat. Yiannina, which ousted Olympiakos, the cup’s defending champion and league front-runner, in the previous round, went into last night’s return leg needing to overcome a 2-0 deficit. Larissa lies 12th in the 16-team Super League. It took just five minutes of play for Panathinaikos to open the scoring for a 1-0 lead, which sufficed to get the Athens team through to the final with a 1-0 aggregate score. Soon afterward, Xanthi, which had not beaten Panathinaikos in six previous cup encounters, pressured in search of an equalizer. But a strong spell between the 10th and 20th minutes of play failed to yield results. Effective defensive play by Panathinaikos captain Yiannis Gioumas, his club’s leading performer last night, helped the Athens team to survive the tough spell. Panathinaikos has not been eliminated from the cup’s semifinals in 17 years. Last time the Athens club failed to get through the final-four stage was in the 1989-90 season, when Panathinaikos was deprived of a place in the final by archrival Olympiakos. Once again this season, Xanthi’s inability to convert opportunities proved detrimental. In other soccer action last night, Thessaloniki club Aris defeated visiting Ergotelis 2-0 to move up to fifth place in the Super League, two points behind fourth-placed PAOK. The game was originally scheduled for last Sunday but was postponed until last night after the Thessaloniki team failed to meet a ticket ban for organized fans imposed by the government following a fatal riot on the outskirts of Athens between Olympiakos and Panathinaikos fans – on the sidelines of a women’s volleyball match between the two rival clubs earlier this month.

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