Archrivals kick off new season

Champion of the Greek league Olympiakos meets rival Panathinaikos in the opening match of the soccer season Sunday. Olympiakos, which has won 10 of the last 11 titles, has gained the reputation of being the dominant club in Greece. Last season, the team finished nine points ahead of AEK and 17 in front of third-placed Panathinaikos. The two Athens clubs are again expected to be Olympiakos’s major title contenders. After several seasons in the lower divisions, Levadiakos and Veria return to the top league, along with Asteras of the southern city of Tripolis, which was promoted to the first division for the first time in its 29-year history. The Greek league opens Saturday. AEK visits Veria, while other games include Aris-Panionios, Xanthi-PAOK, Tripolis-Larissa, Iraklis-Ergotelis, OFI-Apollon and Atromitos-Levadiakos. Olympiakos wil be led by Takis Lemonis for a second season. The 47-year-old coach resigned from Xanthi in December last year and later replaced Norwegian coach Trond Sollied at the Piraeus club. AEK will continue with Lorenzo Serra Ferrer as coach, while Panathinaikos has recently hired former Sporting coach Jose Peseiro. In the preseason, Olympiakos got the biggest boost by signing former Real Madrid defender Raul Bravo and striker Darko Kovacevic from Real Sociedad. The Piraeus club, however, will be without Mexico striker Nery Castillo, sold to Ukranian club Shakhtar Donetsk for 16 million euros, a record for Greek soccer. AEK acquired veteran Brazilian midfielder Rivaldo when negotiations with Olympiakos for an extension to his contract broke down. Olympiakos will also play in the group stage of the Champions League as champion, while AEK must advance through qualifying. To get to the competition’s group stage, AEK needs to overcome a 2-0 deficit against mighty Spanish club Sevilla, winner of the past two UEFA Cup titles, in next Tuesday’s return leg in Athens. If AEK fails, it will be transferred to qualifying competition for a berth in the lower-level UEFA Cup’s group stage. (AP, Kathimerini)