Season Preview: 2017/18 Greek Football League
AGONAsport’s Greg Gavalas brings you a full preview of the 2017/18 Greek Football League.
The Greek Football League finally kicks off in Greece this weekend, in rather laughable circumstances, the league starts very late like it did last season, as a football fan it's embarrassing and ridiculous that a naming right to the league creates this but in Greek Football style this is the case, I just wonder If they realize, perhaps if they prepare more professionally things like this won't see the most delayed league in Europe happen for a third-time next season.
Nevertheless, we have a 2nd Division with some proud names in Greek Football who are looking to have a great start and find promotion to the Super League (SL) next season, there is a huge mix of talent around, some teams will need to gel very, whilst other have a star or two that will need to step up and produce.
Clubs like Aris and OFI have a rich history, great boutique stadiums and many fans, both clubs have reached the heights of huge European wins and nights of ecstasy. Most of the clubs have had First Division (Alpha Ethniki) exposure, like Apollon Pontou (formerly Apollon Kalamaria), Trikala, Panahaiki, Kalithea and more recently in SL, Panserraikos, Ergotelis and Veria.
18 teams will battle out the season, two teams will have the elation of promotion and four will be demoted top the 3rd Division (Gamma Ethniki) - we cover the teams below
Aris: For a second season running Aris will be favorites to finish in the top 2, but they will need to improve from last season. They have the best squad although did lose a great goalkeeper in Sokratis Dioudis to Panathinaikos, he is not starting at PAO so I wouldn’t be surprised if he is loaned back to Aris in January.
Christos Bourbos has a wealth of experience in defense but veteran Brazilian and Aris legend Neto still the lime light, a naturalized Greek, Neto at 36, is still going strong and there would be no better reward than promotion to the GSL.
Aris have former AEK players Dimitris Anakoglou and Vangelis Platellas in midfield, both players were part of the AEK team that waltzed back into the GSL not long ago and I think Platellas will star in the Football League.
Aris is not as strong as I would have hopped for up front, Antonis Kapnidis, will start the season and be the hope but I think a more prolific name could be on the cards come January if Aris come out stumbling.
OFI: Like Aris, OFI had considerable expectations for promotion last season but that did not go to plan. They bought many players but the issue was they never gelled so a new philosophy has come to play, OFI did not get too many new players but one great signing in Vassilis Koustianikoulis, he is now 29 and whilst all the promise for a big career didn’t pan out as many thought, the quick midfielder will lead the charge to get OFI back to the GSL.
OFI have also signed a much-needed scorer in last season's Top Scorer Nikos Kouskounas from Trikala, the attacking midfielder has somehow not been bought by a GSL club, his 38 goals that spam just two seasons in the Football League are a great number, with Dimitris Manos next to him, OFI have an attacking thread that I don’t believe others can match.
Apollon Pontou (Kalamaria): Apollon has made the long track back to the bigger leagues after years of obsoleting in the 3rd Division and want to be where they were 10 years ago back in 1st Division if the can manage it.
They have a small squad and will be looking to Leonidas Kyvelidis up front to help them with goals and promotion like he did with Apollon Smirini last season. Like Aris, outside of Kyvelidis, the other forwards will need to step up.
Trikala: Trikala will be a new team in the coming season with many players leaving and new coming in, they have a large squad to choose from so they should be able to cope with the many games better than many other clubs.
Two players who will be important for possible promotion are, former Panathinaikos midfielder Thanasis Dinas, he was bought from Platanias and a player that I think can dominate in the Football League. The other is former AEK striker Dimitris Sialmas, the now 31-year-old has his last chance to make something of his career and has large shoes to fill given he replaces Kouskounas.
Panachaiki: The team from Patra makes their return to the Football League after 12 months, Greek fans have always wanted a team from Patra in the GSL but will this happen in 2018? I don't think so; the squad is generally very young and inexperienced but this could be a good building block and start for future success.
A name many will be familiar with is Kostas Chalkias, at 43 the veteran goalkeeper who has been registered, he can help lead the young guys out.
Another veteran in the field of youngsters is Georgos Fotakis (both he and Chalkias played for Greece at Euro 2012) who will no doubt be a key leader on the field.
Like other clubs Panachaiki does not have much thread upfront so who takes the lead there is one to look out for.
Doxa Drama: The historic club returns to the Football League after three seasons in the third division. Turkish midfielder Deniz Baykara comes over from Trikala and the home fans are expecting much from him, like wise Antonis Petropoulos comes over from Apollon Smirnis, he helped them get promoted to the GSL last season, if Lefteris Matsoukas can get some form happening up front, Doxa may look for an upset or three through the season, Fanouris Goundalakis is a vetran on the Greek fields in midfield and a good signing for the team.
Panegialios: Panegialios is a season regular in the Football League, this is their fifth straight season in the League. Kostandinos Kaznaferis is the lead man in midfield, the 30-year-old has much GSL experience and new signing Alexandros Arnarellis will be looking to make his mark. Andreas Stamatis was bought from Chania and come in with an impressive 11 goals last season.
Sparti: Sparti was a real impressive force in the Football League last season and will be looking to go that little bit better this season. They will be vastly different with much players movement, surprisingly, Sparti has released 4 rather key players from their roster and bought in the following; Equatorial Guinea International, Randy up front, Portuguese journey man Furtado, Antonis Ranos from Xanthi and Thanasis Dinopapas.
If Randy and Ranos can form a connection up front, Sparti for me has a better due up front than most but the talent behind is nothing amazing, never the less, a promising situation.