SPORTS

Soccer focus shifting now to league playoffs, Greek Cup

Since soccer’s regular season came to a close last Saturday in the Super League, focus now has shifted to the playoffs for a spot in next season’s Champions League and to the Greek Cup final of this coming Saturday. The draw for the playoffs took place yesterday and has brought together the teams that finished second and third, PAOK and Panathinaikos, in the first round of games, set for May 10. Those two, along with AEK and Larissa, will play a round-robin mini-league with the winner representing Greece in the Champions League along with champion Olympiakos and the other three entering the Europa League, which will replace the UEFA Cup this summer PAOK enters the mini-league with three points; Panathinaikos starts with two; AEK has one and Larissa no points. The last round of games will be on May 31, when AEK hosts Panathinaikos and PAOK greets Larissa. AEK could be forgiven for not thinking of the playoffs at present, as the Greek Cup final this Saturday is fast approaching. AEK will clash with Olympiakos at the Olympic Stadium in the season’s showpiece, with tickets to the game already sold out. Olympiakos, however, has already begun planning for next season and yesterday secured the services of former Greece goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis for another season. The 38-year-old keeper will also have the former Iraklis stopper Urko Pardo as his understudy, a Spanish national who Olympiakos signed on loan yesterday from Rapid Bucharest for next season, with a buyout clause. Meanwhile, the managerial merry-go-round has started again. After Panionios’s appointment of former Panthrakikos coach Emilio Ferrera, the Komotini club resorted to Romanian Ilie Dumitrescu. Relegated Panserraikos dismissed Belgian coach Hugo Broos and Atromitos Peristeriou, which has clinched promotion to the Super League, has appointed former AEK coach Giorgos Donis.