Old guard to dominate new soccer season

The new domestic soccer season gets under way today with the usual suspects, Olympiakos, Panathinaikos and AEK again overwhelming favorites for the title. In fact, last year’s champion, Olympiakos, and runner-up, Panathinaikos, have strengthened their ranks considerably over the summer, spending more than 20 million euros each in the transfer market and appearing to be way ahead of AEK, which has run into serious problems. Other clubs, such as the Thessaloniki trio of Aris, PAOK and Iraklis do not look as if they will make a serious impact on the top three, while of the provincial clubs only Larissa and Asteras Tripolis look like a good bet to break into the upper echelon of the Super League. Champion Olympiakos kicks things off with a home game against Triopolis tonight. It has spent heavily this summer, bringing in eight recruits, the most notable being the Brazilian pair of Diogo and Dudu, while Greece international defender Avraam Papadopoulos also arrived from Aris in a bid to shore up the defense, which has always been the Achilles heel of the Piraeus Club. Much is expected of the two Brazilian signings. Dudu, a defensive midfielder bought for 6 million euros from CSKA Moscow, should give Olympiakos a bit more bite and energy in the center while Diogo, who joined from Brazilian side Portuguesa in a deal worth roughly 10 million euros, is considered a talented young forward who is ready to take on the challenge of playing in Europe. Olympiakos’s elimination from the Champions League by unfancied Anorthosis Famagusta of Cyprus has put pressure on new coach Ernesto Valverde before the season has even started. Anything less than the title, or possibly the league and cup double, will be considered a failure. Other games today include OFI Crete against PAOK and newly promoted Panthrakikos against another Cretan side, Ergotelis. Panathinaikos is in action tomorrow when they take on AEK at the Olympic Stadium in an opening day derby that should give fans an idea of whether a gulf really has been created between the two teams this summer. The Greens have settled their boardroom dispute and with the help of new investors, led by the head of the Marfin buyout group Andreas Vgenopoulos, they have invested heavily in new players, including Brazil captain Gilberto Silva from Arsenal. A new manager has also been brought in at the club. Dutchman Henk ten Cate, who was previously an assistant coach at Chelsea, has brought a wealth of experience and know-how with him. The Greens have already made a decent start to their season by defeating Sparta Prague to make it into the group stages of the Champions League thanks to a 2-1 win in the Czech Republic and a 1-0 victory in Athens on Tuesday. The mood at Panathinaikos seems to be very positive but Olympiakos has won 11 of the last 12 league titles and its rivals will need to muster all their powers to halt the Reds’ domination. AEK came within two points of managing to overthrow Olympiakos last season but the Yellows have done little to strengthen the side over the summer and instead find themselves in a weaker position. Chairman Demis Nikolaidis has announced he is leaving at the end of this season after admitting that he has failed to win over the fans. Brazilian star Rivaldo has left after agreeing to take up a lucrative offer to continue his career in Uzbekistan. Also, AEK was knocked out of the UEFA Cup on Thursday by Omonia Nicosia. With little financial muscle, AEK has not been able to compete in the transfer market with Olympiakos and Panathinaikos. Instead, they have settled for bargain buys and loan signings. On the positive side, AEK managed to lure promising young coach Giorgos Donis to the coaching post from Larissa. The other games tomorrow are: Aris vs Levadiakos, Iraklis vs Panserraikos, Larissa vs Thrasyvoulos and Panionios vs Xanthi.