League leader AEK loses to Iraklis

After a monthlong Christmas break, Greek soccer resumed yesterday with AEK Athens losing to Iraklis 3-2 in Thessaloniki but retaining the lead in the first division league. Second-placed Olympiakos Piraeus trounced 4-0 Panachaiki Patras with a hat trick from Alexis Alexandris. The Piraeus side narrowed the difference with AEK from five to two points. It was AEK’s second defeat of the season and followed a week of upheaval in the Athens club. Portuguese coach Fernando Santos had quit over a dispute with the club’s owners over their signing of two new players but was persuaded by hundreds of AEK supporters to return to his post. After 11 games, AEK has 27 points, against 25 for Olympiakos. PAOK Thessaloniki moved into third place with 21 points after beating Akratitos away 2-1. In other games yesterday, it was: Panionios 1, Aris 0; OFI 4, Ionikos 0; and Panathinaikos 2, Aegaleo 1. On Saturday, Ethnikos Asteras and Xanthi played to a scoreless draw. Iraklis exploited one of the many mistakes made by AEK’s defense to take the lead with Giorgos Kyriazis in the 10th minute. He fired the ball home after it bounced off Ilias Atmatzidis’s crossbar. In the 19th, Iraklis’s keeper Costas Halkias sprinted from his post to deny Sotiris Constantinidis an equalizer. Newly signed striker Ilija Ivic, one of the two new controversial players at AEK, replaced Nikos Kostenoglou in the 22nd minute to make his debut. He nearly scored when his close-range shot went wide. Four minutes before the end of the first period, Georgian midfielder Levani Kebadze dribbled past Vassilis Lakis to make the score 2-0 for the hosts. Christos Maladenis briefly narrowed the difference in the 49th, shooting off a pass from Ivic. But Brazilian striker Fofonka converted a penalty to make it 3-1 in the 62nd. Iraklis fell back to preserve the win, as AEK threw its players forward. All it achieved was another goal off a penalty by Vassilis Tsartas. (AP)

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