AEK-PAOK preview: Greek Cup final shrouded by bad blood
GREEK SOCCER CUP - FINAL
|AEK||1:30 PM (EST)||PAOK|
AGONAsport’s Shaun Nicolaides previews the Greek Cup final between AEK and PAOK at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.
For the second year in a row, AEK and PAOK meet in the Greek Cup final. Last season, PAOK earned a 2:1 victory with a controversial Pedro Henrique goal in the dying moments, meaning there is plenty of bad blood coming into the showdown at the OAKA.
During the current season, these clubs have emerged as Greece’s leading teams, both participating in a thrilling Super League title race. However, while AEK eventually won the championship by a six-point margin, the trophy’s fate was decided when PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis entered the pitch with a gun after a last-minute goal was disallowed for offside in the PAOK-AEK match. PAOK were handed a 0:3 defeat and docked three points from the table, in turn seeing their title hopes extinguished. PAOK’s Ukrainian midfielder Yevhen Shakhov touched upon wanting revenge in his pre-match speech: “We haven’t forgotten what happened in Thessaloniki in the league, we should all be focused and remember just how important this match is for us.”
With the match taking place at the OAKA, AEK do boast home advantage, something which naturally angered PAOK. Before last year’s Greek Cup final in Volos, fans engaged in disgraceful skirmishes outside of the stadium, but any trouble on Saturday could result in the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) being expelled from FIFA and UEFA. Representatives of the organisations are scheduled to attend the game as to make a final decision on the Grexit issue.
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Drawn in Group C, the Enosis defeated Lamia 2:0, Apollon Larissa 7:0 and Kallithea 3:2 to ease through to the knockout stages. AEK then played Olympiacos in the Last 16, drawing 0:0 in Piraeus and claiming a tense 2:1 victory at the OAKA to beat their arch-rivals.
The newly crowned Greek champions comfortably saw off the challenge of Panetolikos 5:0 on aggregate in the quarters, but it was a different story in the semi-final.
AEK lost 1:2 to AEL in Larissa in the first leg and the second was tied at 0:0 until the final moments of stoppage time. AEL were on the verge of pulling off a major upset, but Lazaros Christodoulopoulos broke Larissa’s hearts, firing in an acrobatic volley to send AEK to the final on away goals.
The Dikefalos tou Vorra had no problems in Group B, beating Levadiakos 2:1, Apollon Pontou 1:0 and Aiginiakos 5:0. In the Last 16, PAOK were pitted against Football League outfit Trikala, easily winning 7:2 on aggregate.
PAOK had to play high-flying Atromitos in the quarter-finals in a tricky looking tie, but the Thessaloniki club expertly dispatched Peristeri 5:1. It was a similar story in the semis, with PAOK giving Panionios no chance by thrashing them 6:2.
AEK’s only injury worry is Iranian midfielder Masoud Shojaei, who trained individually this week. Captain Petros Mantalos is fully fit following his serious knee injury, playing 83 minutes of the Super League match against Apollon Smyrnis last Saturday. Dmytro Chygrynskiy has also recovered from a small niggle.
Head coach Razvan Lucescu has a full squad to choose from with no injuries or suspensions to concern him. PAOK trained for the final time in Thessaloniki on Thursday, later boarding a flight to Athens in preparation for the match. As usual, record breaking goaltender Alexandros Paschalakis will defend PAOK’s net.
Barkas, Bakakis, Chygrynskiy, Vranjes, Lopes, Simoes, Mantalos, Christodoulopoulos, Bakasetas, Livaja, Araujo.
Paschalakis, Leo Matos, Varela, Crespo, Vieirinha, Canas, Shakhov, Mauricio, Pelkas, Biseswar, Prijovic.
05/05/18, Apollon Smyrnis - AEK - 0:1 (Super League)
29/04/18, AOK Kerkyra - AEK - 0:0 (Super League)
22/04/18, AEK - Levadiakos - 3:0 (Super League)
18/04/18, AEK - AEL - 1:0 (Greek Cup)
15/04/18, Platanias - AEK - 0:1 (Super League)
05/05/18, PAOK - Platanias - 3:0 (Super League)
29/04/18, Panathinaikos - PAOK - 0:3 (Super League)
22/04/18, PAOK - Xanthi - 2:1 (Super League)
17/04/18, PAOK - Panionios - 3:1 (Greek Cup)
14/04/18, PAOK - Panionios - 3:1 (Super League)
PREVIOUS CUP FINAL MEETINGS
Excluding 2017’s loss, the Kitrinomavri have enjoyed success against their Dikefalos rivals, winning three of the four Greek Cup finals between these two teams. On AGONAsport, details of those four matches can be found.
On Thursday, it was revealed that 44-year old Spanish referee David Fernández Borbalán will take charge of Saturday’s Greek Cup final with assistants from Spain helping him. It came as a surprise for a foreign referee to be appointed, but the EPO is doing everything in its power to ensure the smooth running of the match to remain a member of FIFA and UEFA.
Borbalán worked in both the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League this season, officiating the Olympiacos-Juventus (0:2), Ostersunds-Arsenal (0:3), PSG-Anderlecht (5:0) and Young Boys-CSKA Moscow (0:1) matches. His most recent game in La Liga was Atletico Madrid’s 1:0 away victory against Alaves on April 29.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
AEK goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas is fully focused on completing the double, stating his desire to end the season on a high note: “Our motivation is to win. We are AEK and we want to win the cup, it would be the icing on the cake. Doubts about our championship win? Only PAOK have those doubts, we know we’re champions. There will be fans of both teams at the stadium, but maybe home advantage will count for us. Am I preparing for penalties? If we play like we’ve played all year, there won’t be any need for a penalty shootout.”
30-year old Angolan midfielder Djalma Campos wants PAOK to repeat 2017’s success: “We have the same target as last year - we want to win. We all know what happened in the league game against AEK, but the final will be a different match. The most important thing is our desire to win. It’s not fair that the game will take place at the OAKA, everyone understands this.”
Taking into account the rivalry, it promises to be a pulsating, fiercely contested final. AEK are hungry to win the club’s maiden double since 1978, but PAOK feel the Super League title was snatched from their grasp and want to prove their superiority on the pitch.
It will be fascinating to see who takes the initiative in this game, especially given that both teams are at their best when attacking with intensity. The watertight AEK defence will have to be on its guard to keep Super League top scorer Aleksandar Prijovic at bay.