Monday, August 25, 2014

A rather typical season of the Greek first division. One hopeless outsider -  Panserraikos (Serres).
Pansseraikos managed exactly ½ of the points of the 17th in the league... 13. Four wins, 5 ties, and 25 games they lost. The last place was firmly theirs.
 Not so for the spot just above last: 8 clubs tried to avoid it. 

Egaleo (Athens) was unable to escape. They got 26 points, but needed 2 more to survive.
Four clubs had rather comfortable season – no worries at all, no ambitions either.  
 PAS Giannina deserves a mention. Not because they impressed – they finished 13th – but because of the curious team they maintained – the flock of South Americans kept them afloat and more: these players became more than local heroes – Oscar Alvarez already established himself as a very respected player, good enough to be desired – and taken – by Panathinaikos. At least one more followed in his steps. Giannina replaced the lost players with new South Americans – a possible new jewels for the league, or at least for the club. Interesting approach, involving scams with names and 'roots' for sure, but so far working and facing no protests. Perhaps because Giannina were modest club never threatening the status quo. 
 So, 5 clubs remained to claim top spots. Well... not really, for they were divided into 3 separate groups. 
 Panathinaikos suffered this year – very unusual for them. They were still far above the bulk of the league, yet not anywhere near to the title contenders.
Standing from left: Achileas Aslanidis, Vasilis Konstantinou, Nikos Kovis, Demetris Kizas, Takis Elefteriadis, Kostas Elefterakis.
Crouching: Walter Wagner (West Germany), Spiros Livatinos, Oscar Alvarez (Argentina), Christos Terzanidis, Stelios Stefanakis.  
Panathinaikos had to rebuild, this was obvious a few years already. And they tried, but it was not working. The new boys were neither new, nor very young  -  the rebuilding was questionable largely because legends were exchanged for slightly younger players, who did not deliver. Domazos and Antoniadis were replaced just before the season started with Delikaris and Wagner. Wagner was so-so, but Delikaris, who came as a superstar, did not even become a regular. The transfers misfired. Still, the team was full of national team players – Aslanidis, Konstantinou, Livatinos, Terzanidis.  Kostas Elefterakis, nicknamed 'The Deer', was no longer used by the national team, but still was one of the biggest Greek stars and almost the last one of the great European Champions Cup finalists to play for the club. Not very old either – only 28. Talent was recruited from elsewhere too – Greece permitted only two foreign players to play in a game, but... there were more, because they were considered Greek : Dimitris Kizas, a national team player of Cyprus, and the ethnic Greek born in Turkey, and Turkish citizen – Nikos Kovis. And another foreign player was bolted to the bench: the mysterious Antonio Gomez Benitez. On the surface, it was a squad capable of winning the championship, guided by Kazimierz Gorski. But the newcomers did not impress, may be Gorski was not really up to expectations either – he was seemingly going downhill since 1974 – but whatever was the reason, Panathinaikos settled at 5th place. 4 points ahead of the 6th, thus far above the bulk of the league, but 7 points behind PAOK, 4th this year, and they were not even close to the bronze medalists. A disastrous season for Panathinaikos. 
 PAOK, champions in 1976, were now good only for 4th position. They left Panathinaikos in the dust, but nothing else – with 45 points PAOK was 5 points behind their city rivals Aris. 
 Strong season for Aris – normally, they were among the top 6-7 clubs in the league, but not medalists. This year – bronze.

A big success, to be sure. Especially after leaving their arch-enemy, PAOK, far behind. Yet... it was good only locally... Aris were not in the race for the title at all: they ended 6 points behind the silver medalists.
 It boiled down to the familiar duel between two clubs – Olympiakos was ever-present contender and their opponents, although not Panathinaikos this year, were still obvious suspects: the 3rd big club of the country – AEK (Athens), who started the championship as reigning champions. Now, Olympiakos seemingly made the same mistake as Panathinaikos – they exchanged their beloved superstar Delikaris for the legendary striker Antoniadis and were the worse for it. Like Delikaris, Antoniadis did not capture the hearts of the fans and perhaps did not really want to play for Olympiakos. Perhaps trade between arch-enemies should never be done – neither club benefited. But unlike Panathinaikos, Olympiakos did not drop down. Not a  bit, in fact – they finished with exactly the same points AEK earned: 56. Then foggy thing happened: nowadays the final table suggests that the championship was decided by goal-difference. Normal practice and no sweat: Olympiakos had inferior one by far. There is no suggestion for different rule – but in the historic part of their official website AEK claim that there was to be a decisive play-off between the contenders after the season. Olympiakos failed to show and AEK won the title. This is almost unbelievable – Olympiakos, otherwise second, suddenly had a chance to win the championship and refused to play? Out of fear? Impossible – AEK were pretty much equal opponent. Hard to believe Olympiakos missed an opportunity  and was left empty-handed for a second year in a row. Was it some kind of scandal, which the Greek Federation chose to keep under lid and never mention? Who knows... the fact is Olympiakos finished second and their position makes perfect sense: their goal-difference was 63-27; AEK's – 90-30. 
 Perhaps a lucky victory, but victory. A second consecutive title for AEK – their 7th altogether. 

A tied race to be sure, quite dramatic, but AEK were strong: they lost only 3 mathces (Olympiakos lost 4) and won 25. They scored 90 goals in 34 games. They allowed only 30 goals in their own net. Obviously in great form – which normally means good coach. Ferenc Puskas was at the helm this season, replacing Zlatko Cajkovski, but... he was fired  -or left on his own - in the spring-half of the season. Strange... the fans seemingly think him instrumental for the victory today and the club does not criticize Puskas either. What really happened? Does it matter? AEK still won the title.
hampions again – considering the big transfers of the summer of 1978, AEK was the least likeliest winner. They got Mimis Domazos, 36-old veteran, most likely at the end of his wits. Not a big improvement, it seemed – especially because at the same position AEK another 36-old veteran: their own hero Mimis Papaioannou. Yet, it was solid team, one of the best in Greece – lethal attack: Thomas Mavros (who ended as the league's best goalscorer), the Yugoslav star Dusan Bajevic, the Uruguayan Milton Viera, already very successful in Greece, and Tasos Konstantinou. Very strong midfield too – Papaioannou, Christos Ardizoglou, Takis Nikoloudis , and newly acquired Domazos; they had at least one strong defender - Christos Intzoglou; and experienced, solid goalkeeper - Lakis Stergioudas. On the surface, a squad may be a bit weaker than what Olympiakos and Panathinaikos had , but may be with a bit of luck... It was more than luck – Mimis Domazos settled at once – the change brought new life to him and he had a splendid season. The rest were in excellent form too. At the end it amazing: Papaioannou collected his 5th title (all with AEK), Milton Viera also his 5th (three with Olympiakos), but Domazos won his 10th! Nine were won with Panathinaikos, of course, but what a debut – a champion right away. Historic numbers, very hard to match – and also bringing the last laugh to AEK: some old horses they got, discarded by Panathinaikos and Olympiakos! It was wonderful – but a little less wonderful than the previous year. Back then AEK won a double.