PAOK retain Greek Cup to wreck AEK’s double dream
GREEK SOCCER CUP - FINAL
|AEK||0 - 2||PAOK|
A stunning free-kick from captain Vieirinha and a late Dimitris Pelkas tap-in helped PAOK overcome AEK to lift the Greek Cup on Sunday at the Olympic Stadium in Athens after an enthralling final ended in a deserved 2-0 win for the Salonica club.
Portuguese utility man Vieirinha curled in after 65 minutes and Greece midfielder Pelkas added a second in the first minute of added time to clinch the victory, but in truth the damage could have been more for AEK, who struggled to cope with a more hungry and in-form PAOK side.
Razvan Lucescu’s men could also afford Aleksandar Prijovic to miss a 23rd-minute penalty which was saved by the outstanding AEK goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas, who kept AEK in the game with a string of fine saves.
The victory means PAOK retain the trophy they won last season against the same opponents, notching up their sixth Greek Cup title in their history and making amends for missing out on the SuperLeague title to AEK.
Both sides played the final 10 minutes with 10 players after PAOK midfielder Mauricio was sent-off for a dangerous tackle on Sergio Araujo with 10 minutes, with AEK defender Ognjen Vranjes following him down the trunnel after picking up a second booking for verbally abusing the referee.
PAOK, however, finished with nine men with Fernando Verla was given his marching orders in the last seconds for a second yellow card.
There had been an intriguing build-up to this match. It was the second year in a row these two fierce rivals met in the final of this competition, with PAOK taking home the trophy after a 2-1 win with a controversial Pedro Henrique goal in the dying moments that replays showed was well offside.
If that wasn’t enough, there was the farcical, abandoned clash between the two teams at the Toumba when PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis entered the pitch with a gun after a last-minute goal was disallowed for offside which cost PAOK a shot at the league title which AEK eventually won for the first time in 24 years.
All of that meant that there was plenty of bad blood coming into the match. Add to the mix that the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) appointed a Spanish referee, David Fernandez Borbalan, as they looked to avoid any potential trouble that could spark the threat from FIFA of a footballing #grexit after a violence-plagued season, and there was a white hot atmosphere.
In the event, there was little in the way of crowd trouble as a heavily-policed Olympic Stadium was kept under control.
A frantic start saw PAOK take the early initiative with Diego Biseswar making inroads down the left channel with his direct running, although it was team-mate Mauricio who had the first shot on goal from an Aleksandar Prijovic knock-down, but his shot flashed narrowly wide.
AEK responded with a flowing move typical of their attacking play this season, but Araujo blazed high over the PAOK crossbar when presented with a great chance following Marko Livaja’s right-wing cross.
The lively Biseswar then missed two golden chances to put PAOK ahead in the space of two minutes. First the Dutchman latched on to a poor back pass from Niklas Hult, surging forward before firing inches wide of Barkas’ left post with only the AEK keeper to beat. Then, the PAOK midfielder volleyed narrowly wide following a corner.
The most crucial moment of the first half came in the 23rd minute when PAOK were correctly awarded a penalty when AEK full-back Michalis Bakakis cut down Biseswar in the box. SuperLeague top scorer Prijovic stepped up to take the spot-kick but his effort was superbly tipped around the post by Barkas.
Despite the disappointment, PAOK continued to boss proceedings, with Pelkas next taking a pot shot after 32 minutes which was saved down low comfortably by Barkas. Barkas was the hero again three minutes later when he brilliant blocked A Djalma Campos shot when the PAOK winger broke free and raced in on goal.
Half-time AEK’s best chance of the match came on the stroke of half-time when they were awarded a free-kick after Livaja was chopped down 30 yards out. Tasos Bakasetas stepped up but blasted his free-kick wastefully over the crossbar.
AEK continued to look nervy and devoid of ideas on the ball after half-time and their uncertainty almost lead to gifting PAOK the lead five minutes in to the second period.
Hult’s stray backpass was seized upon by Prijovic, but the Serbian marksman failed to lob the ball over Barkas, who came to AEK’s rescue again with a fine save.
Next it was Dimitris Pelkas’ turn to miss a great chance for PAOK. The Greece midfielder did all the work hard by sprinting half the length of the pitch before turning inside for a shot, but his effort flashed narrowly over the bar.
PAOK finally broke the deadlock in the 65th minute with a superb curling free-kick from Portuguese left-back Vierinha, which was awarded after Vranjes brought down Jose Canas and it was no less than the Salonica side deserved.
AEK, who struggled to register a shot on goal, continued to misfire when they did get a sight of goal, with substitute Giorgos Giakoumakis heading wastefully over the crossbar after 75 minutes when he should have made PAOK keeper Alexandros Paschalakis make a save.
Both teams were reduced to 10 players in the 80th minute after Mauricio caught Araujo with an awful tackle, with Vranjes following him down the tunnel after being shown a second yellow card for verbal abuse aimed at the referee.
AEK did not look like they would find an equaliser as much as they pressed forward late on, and they were dealt a sucker punch on the counter attack in the first minute of added time when Prijovic beat the offside trap to cross for Pelkas, who gleefully tapped home from close range and celebrated wildly in front of the huge banks of PAOK fans behind the goal who erupted with joy.