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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 11 April 2015
SPORT 28 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 11 APRIL 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM AEK poised for top-flight comeback AEK is virtually assured of promotion after finishing atop the second division undefeated Fallen Athens soccer giant AEK is poised to return to Greece's top flight next season after a disgraceful drop to amateur status following a period of turmoil. "The story is well known and very sad for our fans," AEK executive director Dusan Bajevic told AFP. "But now we are on the right path and feel much better. We must keep our feet on the ground, be serious, make the right moves and avoid mistakes." Bajevic, a former star player, Yugoslavia international and AEK coach, added that from the summer of 2013 a serious effort began "to make AEK a protagonist once again". "The financial situation is stable now and I am sure everything will go well. No AEK fan was happy with the team playing in an amateur league after such a long and glorious history," said Nikos Angelidis, a fanatic supporter and founder of fan site AEK Live. AEK is virtually assured of reentering the top flight Super League next season, after finishing atop the second division undefeated on Sunday and with a 19-point advantage on runners-up Panachaiki. Heading into the post-season playoffs, it has a 10-point lead in bonus points over its opponents. Just two years ago, the story was entirely different. In 2013, the club was relegated to the second division for the first time in its 81year history over a 35 million-euro debt caused by the financial mismanagement of successive short-lived administrations. Although AEK's management woes were over a decade in the making, the fall coincided with the climax of Greece's own economic crisis. To clear the slate, the club opted to drop to the amateur third division in order to be able to qualify for liquidation. AEK soon took that league by storm, notching a record 23 wins, three draws and only one defeat to climb one category within a year. Much of that is due to the relentless determination of club owner Dimitris Melissanidis, a shipping magnate and fuel trader widely known in Greece as ‘The Tiger’. Melissanidis, 63, now bankrolls the team and has found additional sponsors to improve club finances. Two squad members - de- fender Michalis Bakakis and midfielder Petros Mantalos - have now been capped for Greece, while forward Christos Aravidis is the Football League's leading scorer, with 13 goals in 18 matches. AEK has also joined the London Stock Exchange Group's pan-European platform, bringing it into direct contact with Europe's financial and advisory community. Melissanidis, who delivered two championships when he was in charge 20 years ago, has now also pledged to build a new stadium in AEK's historic heartland, the working-class suburb of Nea Philadelphia. "No matter how much mon- ey you put into the club, there is no tomorrow for AEK without a team-owned stadium in Nea Philadelphia," Melissanidis said in a recent interview. The club was formed in 1924 by Greek refugees from Istanbul - better known to Greeks as Constantinople, the former capital of the Byzantine Empire. AEK is one of the Super League’s most successful clubs. And in deference to AEK's roots, the stadium will be called Haghia Sofia, the famed cathedral of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. After overcoming their financial troubles, the club must now tame unruly supporters who have repeatedly caused headaches. The latest incident involved a pitch invasion by 25 fans during a Greek Cup quarterfinal with Olympiakos last month for which AEK was deducted three points, told to play two matches behind closed doors and fined 17,000 euros. "Greek soccer and other sports suffer from crowd violence. People have stopped going to the stadiums because of hooliganism," complained Dimitris Tsaptsinos, a member of the AEK Internet Fan Club. One of the oldest clubs in Greece, AEK is also among the most successful, with 28 PHOTO: AFP/ANGELOS TZORTZINIS. league titles and 14 Greek Cups. And with the club almost assured a return to the top-flight league, Alex Zaphiropoulos of AEK Gate 21 fan club of Canada sees bright days ahead. "Our future is looking brighter than ever before. To be honest, compared to what we AEK supporters have been through over the past years, it really can only get better from here on," he said. Source: AFP Panathinaikos wins another Greek cup Fourth straight Greek basketball cup win for the Greens after downing Apollon Patras GEORGE GEORGAKOPOULOS Panathinaikos won its fourth consecutive Greek basketball cup and a record 16th overall, downing Apollon Patras 68-53 in last week's final at Panathinaikos' home Olympic Sports Hall after a remarkably tough and eventful campaign. The game was fairly onesided as Apollon proved unable to match its big opponent on the day, with the contest seeming sealed from the first half, which ended 39-20 in the Greens' favour. Panathinaikos even gave its top-pick players a rest in the second half, allowing some of its youngest stars to shine, too. presence of banned Panathinaikos owner (and then president) Dimitris Giannakopoulos. Loukas Mavrokefalidis was the leading scorer for Panathinaikos with 13 points and the Most Valuable Player of the final, but Toarlyn Fitzpatrick was the game's top scorer, notching up 19 points for Apollon. While the final was an easy proposition for the Greens, given also that the draw favoured them in that it led to the game being held at their home court, the way to the final had indeed been very difficult for the champions. In the quarterfinals, held before the start of the league in early October, a depleted Panathinaikos (without James Gist) that was about to play its first competitive game under its new coach Originally the Reds had it their way, but the supreme sports court (ASEAD) ruled that the game's result should not be annulled just because of the presence of the banned official at the stands. That allowed Panathinaikos to face another challenge, travelling to Thessaloniki to play PAOK, that had beaten it in the league. The Greens escaped with victory again right at the end (7168), courtesy of a buzzerbeating Vladimir Jankovic three-pointer. Panathinakos has been crowned 2015 Greek Basket League Cup champions. at the time, Dusko Ivanovic, hosted behind closed doors the well-prepared Olympiakos that appeared on paper to be the favourite for the match. And yet Panathinaikos snatched victory by one point (77-76), with a slam dunk by Esteban Batista a few seconds from the end. PHOTO: V.STOLIS. Then Olympiakos challenged the result of the game in court, seeking to be awarded the ticket to the semi-finals due to the After all these trials (literally) and tribulations, the Greens had an easy ride in the final on Sunday, to add one more Greek cup to a severely congested trophy cabinet that also includes six European cups.
18 April 2015