SPORTS

Battle lines drawn in Thessaloniki

PAOK, Olympiakos and the city of Thessaloniki are bracing for a stormy day in soccer on Sunday when the two teams clash in the Super League, just four days after Wednesday’s cup game which saw Olympiakos qualify. The cupholders won 2-0 in extra time thanks to goals by Diogo in the 46th minute and English striker Matt Derbyshire in the 109th, but PAOK has complained about the referee’s decision that forced the Thessaloniki side to play with just nine men for about 40 minutes, while refusing to be as harsh with Olympiakos players. The referee also failed to stop the game, as he is supposed to, upon hearing the nationally sensitive chant «Bulgarians» directed at PAOK players. There were further reports of attacks on 25 to 30 PAOK fans in the VIP section of the stands at Karaiskaki Stadium about an hour before kickoff on Wednesday evening, resulting in significant injuries to at least one person. The visitors actually enjoyed a hero’s welcome upon landing at Macedonia Airport in Thessaloniki early yesterday morning from about 300 fans, who called for revenge in the league game on Sunday evening at Toumba Stadium. Olympiakos’s president Sokratis Kokkalis sent a letter to the deputy minister responsible for public order, Christos Markoyiannakis, yesterday requesting extra police protection for the team to play at PAOK, stating that there is a negative climate that «some people are cultivating.» In view of this atmosphere, the administration of PAOK is actually trying to calm some of their hardcore fans who went as far as issuing death threats on local radio. «We have to protect our club,» stated board member Panayiotis Pikilidis. «There is a huge risk of the team getting penalized.» Reaction Panathinaikos was surprisingly eliminated by Super League strugglers Panserraikos, going down 3-2 in Athens, but its officials have also turned their attention on what happened at the Olympiakos versus PAOK game. President Nikos Pateras sent a warning to the former head of the Hellenic Football Federation, Vassilis Gagatsis, to stop interfering with refereeing: «Gagatsis must realize he is finished and let [new president Sofoklis] Pilavios to do his job,» said Pateras. Last Sunday, Panathinaikos also complained about poor refereeing at its goalless derby with Olympiakos. Another major shareholder in Panathinaikos, Andreas Vgenopoulos, said in a radio interview yesterday that «as a fan, I would prefer to lose to Panserraikos and miss out on the cup than to support Olympiakos and see my team qualify over PAOK they way it did.» In the third cup tie held on Wednesday, Asteras Tripolis defeated Panionios 1-0 at home to reach the semifinals of the cup for the first time in its history. It will face Olympiakos, while Panserraikos will play AEK in home-and-away games.