Olympiakos wins sixth title in a row

Alexis Alexandris scored a hat trick as Olympiakos Piraeus trounced Aris 5-1 in Thessaloniki yesterday to clinch its sixth consecutive first-division soccer league title. It was Olympiakos’s 11th title since the professional soccer league started in 1979-80. With a record of 17 victories, seven draws and two defeats, the Piraeus club piled up a total of 58 points to top the 14-team standings. On the last day of the season, AEK hammered PAOK 6-2 in Athens and also finished the 26-round championships with 58 points. But Olympiakos captured the trophy because of its better head-to-head record against the Athens club; Olympiakos won both encounters, 3-2 away and 4-3 at home. Olympiakos will participate in the Champions League directly in the group round, while second-placed AEK will take part in the preliminary rounds of Europe’s most prestigious competition. With goals by Miltiadis Sapanis and Krzysztof Warzycha, Panathinaikos beat Ethnikos Asteras 2-1 to finish the season in third place with 55 points. Panathinaikos, which reached the Champions League’s quarter-finals this season, will play in the UEFA cup along with PAOK, Xanthi and Iraklis. From the 2003-2004 season, Greece will have three teams in the Champions League. Thousands of Olympiakos supporters gathered outside the club’s headquarters in Piraeus to celebrate the title. In Thessaloniki, Olympiakos dominated the match played before empty seats because of violence by Aris fans in a previous league game. Alexandris gave Olympiakos the lead in the first minute off a pass by Predrag Djordjevic. In the 17th, Nikos Papadopoulos made Olympiakos’s task easier, sending the ball into his team’s net for an own-goal in his effort to stop a cross by Djordjevic. Four minutes before the end of the first period, Alexandris made it 3-0 and Djordjevic stretched it to 4-0 in the 54th minute. Alexandris sealed the easy victory with his 19th goal of the season, which also made him the league’s top scorer. Aris, facing serious administrative and financial problems, scored a consolation goal with Apostolos Liolidis in the 75th. In Athens, Vassilis Tsartas put AEK ahead in the second minute and Demis Nikolaidis made it 2-0 in the 24th. In the 41st minute, Vassilis Lakis scored his eighth goal of the season to give AEK a 3-0 lead, before Nikolaidis netted his second goal to make the score 4-0 in the 53rd. Stephanos Voskaridis scored two goals for PAOK, in the 85th and 89th minutes, but Ilija Ivic made the final score 6-2 for AEK seconds before the end of the match. In other action yesterday, Panachaiki beat Ionikos 2-0 to remain in the first division and send Ethnikos Asteras to the second. Iraklis drew against Panionios 1-1, Xanthi beat OFI 2-1, and Aegaleo defeated Akratitos 2-1. Kallithea advanced to the first division for the first time in its 36-year history. Ioannina returns to the first division along with Proodeftiki. With the three second-division teams moving to the first, and one relegated to the second, league organizers want to increase the first-division clubs back to 16 next season. At the end of last season, they had lowered them from 16 to 14. Final standings: Olympiakos 58 pts; AEK 58; Panathinaikos 55; PAOK 48; Xanthi 42; Iraklis 36; Panionios 35; OFI 33; Aris 29; Aegaleo 26; Akratitos 23; Ionikos 22; Panachaiki 18; Ethnikos Asteras 17. (AP)