New wins for title contenders

Super League front-runner Panathinaikos and AEK, still third, both won their midweek league games yesterday, against Atromitos and Xanthi respectively, to keep their title hopes on target. Both games had been postponed last month due to bad weather. Panathinaikos leads with 53 points from 23 games in the 30-round Super League. AEK lies third, four points behind, also from 23 games. Defending champion Olympi-akos moved up to second with 52 points after a tribunal awarded the Piraeus club three points late last night for a previous defeat at Apollon Kalamaria. Olympiakos filed an appeal arguing that Apollon fielded a player – Austrian Roman Wallner – who had already represented two clubs this season. Playing crosstown at relegation-threatened Athens club Atromitos, hovering an insecure five points above the danger zone, Panathinaikos earned the game’s three points with an early second-half goal, in the 52nd minute, from central defender Josu Sarriegi. The Spaniard was one of coach Jose Peseiro’s seven lineup changes following last weekend’s 1-1 away draw against AEK. AEK kept up the pressure for a crack at the league title with a third consecutive league victory against visiting Xanthi. The eventual 3-0 outcome was not as easy as the score suggests. AEK struck early, in the seventh minute of play, when Argentinean striker Ismael Blanco slotted home from close range. But Xanthi, currently midtable and within striking distance of a UEFA Cup appearance next season, refused to crumble and applied considerable pressure throughout the first half’s remainder. The visitors came close to equalizing five minutes after the break, but AEK central defender Traianos Dellas cleared with an overhead scissor-kick. Xanthi players protested, claiming the ball had crossed the goal line. Video replays of the incident failed to clarify the matter. The visitors continued to trouble AEK but the hosts virtually secured the game’s three points with a second goal in the 82nd minute, this time from Julio Cesar. AEK extended its lead two minutes before the end of regular time with a goal from Edinho. In a Greek Cup first-leg quarterfinal played yesterday, second-division club Thrasyvoulos, the cup’s sole survivor from a lower-tier league, defeated 10-man Larissa, the trophy holder, 1-0. The pair is scheduled to meet for the return leg on March 26. Thrasyvoulos, which eliminated PAOK along the way to the quarterfinals, scored its winner in the 33rd minute with Haralambos Haralambakis, who slotted in following a poor close-range clearance. Larissa played with 10 men for a full hour, after midfielder Dimitris Gikas was given walking orders for a foul on Ilias Anastassakos in the 31st minute. In the cup’s other quarterfinals, Olympiakos holds a 2-0 advantage over Iraklis ahead of their return clash in Thessaloniki. Also in Thessaloniki, Aris will host Xanthi following a scoreless draw in their first leg. Atromitos holds a 3-1 lead over Cretan club OFI, which hosts the tie’s return leg.

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