Greek Soccer Semi Turns Ugly

THESSALONIKI – Greece’s soccer league semi-final match in which PAOK of Thessaloniki beat powerhouse Olympiakos, 1-0 to advance to the title game was marred by smog caused by hundreds of flares and fish thrown on the loser’s bench.

Olympiakos, which last month was ousted from the Champions League by Manchester United, is also derisively known by a nickname which means a type of fish.

The game began 75 minutes late because of smog caused by the flares, which are a routine part of Greek soccer and not blocked from being brought in.

PAOK won the two-game series on the basis of winning by one goal after losing away, 2-1, under soccer’s curious rules which do not require a third game if the series ends 1-1. The winners will meet another dominant team, Panathinaikos, for the championship.

Violence is common in Greek soccer, along with assertions many of the games are fixed to benefit gamblers.

The victory by PAOK, behind a goal from Stefanos Athanasiadis two minutes into the second half was overshadowed by the ugliness that erupted, including when a flare burned a hole on the Olympiakos team bench. There was no explanation how the fish got there.

The newspaper Kathimerini reported that Olympiakos withdrew to the locker rooms and the referee refused to start the game unless the fish was cleared off the Olympiakos bench, and then demanded that the two teams swapped benches.

When the game started a PAOK fan threw a banana at Olympiakos’s Brazilian player Leandro Salino, and he threw it back at the stands.

The two teams ended the game with 10 men each due to the red cards shown to PAOK’s Bibras Natkho and Olympiakos’s Yiannis Maniatis, with the referee blowing his whistle after 15 minutes of injury time, as every now and then players started fighting with each other throughout the second half.

After the final whistle, home fans stormed in to attack the Olympiakos players on the way to the locker room, with Maniatis and Nelson Valdez getting hit according to Olympiakos.

PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis stated after the game that he had called his Olympiakos counterpart, Vangelis Marinakis, and told him that if Olympiakos would not come out to play, he would withdraw PAOK from the Super League.

Later in the night Olympiakos issued a statement against PAOK and the federation, but also against Panathinaikos owner Yiannis Alafouzos, Skai television and OTE TV.