A shaky start for top contenders

Predrag Djordjevic saved defending champion Olympiakos from embarrassment at the start of Greece’s soccer season Sunday – with a single goal against newcomer Kallithea. The other two contenders for the first-division title fared even worse. AEK was held to a 1-1 draw by Aegaleo, and Panathinaikos was trounced 4-1 by PAOK in Thessaloniki. In other games it was: Iraklis 3, OFI 0; Panionios 2, Ionikos 0; Akratitos 0, Xanthi 1; Proodeftiki 1, Ioannina 0. On Saturday, Aris beat Panachaiki 1-0 in Patras. Olympiakos controlled play but could not break Kallithea’s sturdy defense. The defending champion squandered a series of chances until Djordjevic scored the game’s only goal nine minutes into the second half to give his team three points. Kallithea, in its first-ever match at top-division level, fielded a defensive squad. Despite that, it fought to level toward the end of the match, but Olympiakos’s defense fended off attacks. Olympiakos played at the renovated 14,000-seat Rizoupoli Stadium which it will share this season with a second-division club, Apollon Athens. The move follows the closure of Athens’s 75,000-seat Olympic Stadium for repairs ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games. European soccer body UEFA yesterday approved the use of Rizoupoli for Champions League matches. In Thessaloniki, PAOK played before a sellout home crowd of 26,000 and charged forward from the start. It took the lead in the ninth minute with a shot by Giorgos Georgiadis from the edge of the box. He made it 2-0 with a penalty in the 22nd. Panathinaikos’s new coach Fernando Santos sent in Croatian striker Goran Vlaovic and defender Sotiris Kyrgiakos in the 27th. The Athens club stayed in the match with an own goal by PAOK’s Yiassemi Yiassemaki in the 32nd minute. But seven minutes later, Yugoslav striker Sladian Spasic exploited a defensive mistake to make the score 3-1. Panathinaikos played the second half with 10 men after Angelos Bassinas saw a second yellow card for kicking the ball at the referee. PAOK closed the scoring in the 57th with Pantelis Kaffes, who fired home the ball after it deflected off Rene Henriksen. On Saturday, AEK was held by a spirited Aegaleo, disappointing more than 4,000 supporters. The Athens squad appeared weak in defense and disorganized in midfield, but it managed to take the lead with Demis Nikolaidis in the 20th. Theo Zagorakis darted forward, dribbled past two defenders before passing to the scorer. Five minutes before the end of the first period, Dimitris Meidanis leveled with a powerful shot from 18 meters. Three minutes into the second half, Aegaleo’s keeper Mahamadou Sintibe made a spectacular save to a blistering shot by Zagorakis. The hosts, taking advantage of AEK’s lack of coordination, launched several attacks and missed a major opportunity in the 69th when a shot by Giorgos Fotakis rattled Dionysis Hiotis’s crossbar. AEK’s players are locked in a dispute with the team’s management over pay bonuses. The Athens squad plays Cyprus’s APOEL tomorrow in a second-leg qualifier for the Champions League. AEK won the first-leg 3-2 in Cyprus. (AP)