PAOK into Champions League

PAOK ensured its entry to the Champions League qualifiers for only the second time in its history after defeating rival Olympiakos 1-0 yesterday for the second time in three days, this time in Piraeus. Playing a cautious but efficient game at the Karaiskakis Stadium, PAOK managed to maintain its clean sheet with a fourth win in as many playoff games. The decider came from a clever one-two between Vladan Ivic and Olivier Sorlin as well as a dummy run by Lucio Filomeno into the box that allowed Ivic to get the ball near the penalty spot in the 33rd minute and slot it in. Olympiakos had its best opportunity in the 14th minute when a right-foot volley by Lomana LuaLua hit the crossbar. The hosts entered the second half with more of an attack formation after manager Bozidar Bandovic substituted striker Costas Mitroglou for defender Tasos Pantos. After the hour mark, Olympiakos raised the pressure on PAOK, whose goalkeeper Costas Chalkias saved a close-range header by Oscar Gonzalez in the 67th minute, but this was all the Reds could manage at the PAOK goalmouth. From the 75th minute on, the Olympiakos fans started to jeer their own team, chanting «Shame, shame,» and, addressing the club’s president, Sokratis Kokkalis, they shouted, «Look what you have reduced Olympiakos to!» Both teams finished the game with 10 men as tempers flared at the end and Olof Mellberg of Olympiakos and PAOK’s Pablo Contreras were sent off. Later in the evening, AEK managed to retain the third spot via a last-minute equalizer for a 1-1 draw at Aris. After a goalless first half, with Aris dominating play and AEK having only a good shot from Carlos Araujo to boast of, Aris took the lead two minutes into the second half through Sakis Prittas. AEK had a goal disallowed in the 80th minute for an offside, although television replays showed Rafik Djebbour was not in an irregular position, but justice came in the final minute of injury time. A poor clearance in defense by Carlos Arano of a Panagiotis Lagos cross from the left saw the ball come into the path of Leonardo, who sent it in from three meters away, silencing the home crowd. With two games remaining, PAOK now has 13 points, Olympiakos has seven, AEK has six and Aris has four.

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