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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 13 February 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2016 27 SPORT Friends from Sydney become rivals in Thessaloniki Two Australians prepare for the PAOK-Iraklis derby GEORGIOS HATZIMANOLIS It's an unusually warm and sunny February afternoon in downtown Thessaloniki and I'm having coffee with two Australian footballers who now call the Macedonian capital home. At one of the city's ultrahip cafés, the childhood friends are discussing this Sunday's big Thessaloniki derby. PAOK midfielder Terry Antonis is quietly confident his side has what it takes to win this all-important game. Iraklis forward Kerem Bulut, fresh off a man of the match performance in his team's 1-nil win last Sunday against Giannina, believes Iraklis has the momentum to upset PAOK in front of its fanatical home support. It's a game they both want to win, and neither of them is giving much away, at least not in front of each other. "It's a big derby in this city, it'll be a tough game, as derbies always are, and we expect the atmosphere that our home crowd creates will be the catalyst for an important win," Terry tells me. "The fact that another Aussie is involved makes it all the more interesting for me," he adds. Kerem is also looking forward to the charged atmosphere that PAOK fans are renowned for. "Obviously I would pre- fer if our supporters were there too as they are very vocal and help the team a lot. Given they can't come because of the Greek laws then I hope PAOK fans fill the stadium, I would rather play in front of a full house of passionate fans than a small, silent crowd," says Kerem. The two Australians are having their first seasons in Greece. For Kerem, playing away from home is nothing new. He made his debut for Mladá Boleslav in the Czech Republic when he was just 17. He followed that up with a stint in Turkey, where he played alongside Greek international Fanis Gekas. "Gekas is a good friend of mine, a good guy who helped me a lot during our time together in Turkey," Kerem fondly recalls. Lakesiders have the drive to aim for the top again GEORGE STOGIANNOU Iraklis forward Kerem Bulu. He spent the first half of 2015 playing with the Western Wanderers in the ALeague, scoring five goals in nine appearances before joining Iraklis in July. A talented striker who is used to playing as a number nine, he initially found it difficult adjusting to a new role playing on the wing. "I'm not playing in my position but I am helping the team and that's what I am here to do. I'll do my job wherever the coach decides to play me," Kerem explains. His passionate style of play and his fiery personality is making Kerem a cult favourite with many of Iraklis' younger fans, who will often stop him on the streets of Thessaloniki seeking a selfie with the player. His performance last week against Giannina, when he won the penalty that led to the game's only goal, was a well-timed confidence boost for the young player. "I felt I played well and helping your side to victory is always important, especially in the lead up to the big derby on Sunday," says Kerem. Across town at PAOK, Terry Antonis has not been given much playing time so far this season, but the Australian values the opportunity of training alongside good players and feels the experience will only help him mature as a player. "Obviously I would love to be playing more, however, I am training hard and when the coach thinks I am ready PAOK midfielder Terry Antonis. I will take my opportunity. For the time being, though, I am happy to be training on a daily basis alongside the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Alexandros Tziolis and many other great players. I'm learning every day, my physical condition has improved and I am becoming a better player," says Terry about his first seven months at PAOK. For now he is enjoying his time at the club. "It's a huge club, with amazing facilities and passionate supporters, including many Greek Australian supporters. There have been a number of times that I have seen Melbourne Club PAOK shirts in the stands at Toumba and I know the club in Melbourne is very active and vocal," Terry explains. As we lead into the final stretch of the Greek Super League season, PAOK, currently fourth, still has its sights on finishing second and earning a spot in the Champions League qualifiers. Iraklis, meanwhile, will need a very strong finish if it is to make the play-offs, as the club currently sits in eighth spot, nine points off fifth-placed Panionios. Although both players are focused on their clubs for now, they are also keen on earning a call up to the Socceroos. Kerem's recent performances should at least put him on Ange Postecoglou's radar, while Terry also has ambitions of wearing the green and gold. Having finished top of the NPL ladder two seasons in a row, South Melbourne coach Chris Taylor believes that he has the right foundations in place to launch another successful campaign. Taylor has the luxury of retaining most of his starting 11 from last season's grand final loss to Bentleigh and has recruited players who he believes have the drive to be successful. "You know, if I'm going to be blunt with you, honest, we won the league the last two seasons,” he tells Neos Kosmos. “Maybe we missed out on the grand final last year, but we're not too far away. So it's not a case of making wholesale changes. We just want to improve each year without making wholesale changes." In comes playmaker Marcus Schroen from Hume City, versatile midfielder Matthew Foschini from Oakleigh, midfielders Luke Eyles and Jason Hicks as well as keeper Zaim Zeneli from Dandenong Thunder. Taylor says South is still on the hunt for an offensive player but that they have options there as well. He believes Schroen will add to South's firepower. "I think he was one of the standout players in the NPL last year. And he's ambitious. He wants to go to the A-League. That's part and parcel of what we're doing. We want players who have ambition. Matty Foschini's played there, but also has ambition to get back there. I've got players that have got the right sort of drive, so that's a big thing." Coach Chris Taylor is aiming for a third successive NPL top of the table finish with South. Taylor says that last season, South played about 40 games in all competitions compared with 22 games two years ago. He believes the new signings give more depth, balance and versatility. "It's really a case of strengthening our squad to deal with the increased workload we've experienced over the last two years," he says. South's main striker is again expected to be the remarkably consistent Milos Lujic, who has won the Premier League's Golden Boot for the last three years' running. When asked if Lujic can continue to score season after season, Taylor is willing to consider the possibility that he may not continue in his rich vein. "It's always the big question. People say we rely a lot on Milos. It's a logical thing. He's scored 56 goals in two years for us and at some stage, maybe the goals do run out, and he gets an injury or he has a loss of form. And then we have to address it. At the moment it's not broken, so why fix it? If things aren't working we'll address it in a different way. But the way things are at the moment, he's still the best striker in the state and I'm happy that we've got him at the club." As well as the new additions to the squad, Taylor is confident his players have the drive to again strive for the top. "We've got a winning mentality in the dressing room and that doesn't go overnight. You know, we've built the dressing room based on the character of players and obviously other clubs are improving and we have to raise the bar a little bit each year. But I still think we'll be there or thereabouts this year. Which is the main thing, that we're challenging." South Melbourne kicks off its season on Sunday 21 February against traditional rivals Heidelberg United at Lakeside, followed by six away games. Adelaide United out of Asian Champions League Adelaide United has been tossed out of the Asian Champions League by China's Shandon Luneng, which banked a 2-1 victory in Tuesday night's play-off game in Adelaide. Adelaide conceded two first-half goals and star Marcelo Carrusca missed a penalty in the second stanza, before Sergio Cirio offered a glimmer of hope with an 89th-minute header. But the impressive Chinese outfit held on to advance to the group stage of the lucrative tournament after scoring twice in 22 minutes. Yang Xu opened the scoring for Shandong Luneng in their 2-1 win over Adelaide United.
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