Iraklis is crowned champion

Iraklis, the Greek league volleyball champion two seasons ago, returned to top the domestic league last night with a 3-2 win against defending champion Panathinaikos for a 3-1 win in their best-of-five final series. Iraklis, a losing European finalist in 2005 and 2006, won the opening set with a 25-20 score but a determined Panathinaikos side rebounded to take the second set 25-19. Iraklis regained the lead at 25-22 in the third set but the visiting side leveled again, winning the fiercely contested fourth set with a 25-23 score. The final set, also tight, was eventually won by Iraklis, 15-12. Iraklis looked the more capable side in last night’s match, but a series of unforced errors throughout the crucial contest turned the Thessaloniki club’s task into a longer-than-expected adventure. The game was interrupted for several minutes shortly after its start when the home team’s fans littered the playing arena with shredded paper. Iraklis’s home stadium was packed with 2,000 fervent fans while a significant number of supporters stood outside the arena and watched the game unfold on a giant screen. Panathinaikos went into last night’s match having squandered the home advantage it had gained for the best-of-five final series following a 3-0 loss in Athens earlier this week. In that game, Iraklis performed exceptionally, especially in serving and blocking. Panathinaikos’s heavy defeat prompted the dismissal of the club’s Brazilian coach Francisco dos Santos about an hour after the game had ended. Santos, who led Panathinaikos to a Greek Cup triumph against provincial Lamia earlier this year, when the competition was held, was replaced by his assistant Nikos Boutsouris for the remainder of this league final series. Boutsouris described his task as extremely difficult. Panathinaikos went up 1-0 in the final series with a tight 3-2 win in the opening game at home. Iraklis leveled the series with a straight-sets victory in Thessaloniki before annihilating Panathinaikos in Athens in Game 3.