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The Greek Super League finally got underway this weekend, bringing with it a mixture of expected triumphs and some surprising deviations from proposed football scripts following what has been a disappointing year for Greek football on the domestic and international stage...

Undoubtedly the biggest result of the opening round was AEK Athens’ derby victory over Panathinaikos at the OAKA Spiros Louis Stadium on Sunday evening, with Giorgios Donis’ side putting a difficult pre-season behind them to fight their way to a crucial early-season victory. Meanwhile, Panserraikos provided neutrals with a slightly more sentimental story, recording a dramatic 2-1 victory away against Iraklis to mark their return to the top-flight of Greek domestic football after a 16-year absence.

Defending champions Olympiakos managed to overpower visiting Asteras Tripolis, as Ernesto Valverde’s side recorded a 3-1 win over the Arcadians at the Giorgios Karaiskakis Stadium. It certainly wasn’t entirely smooth sailing for the men from the port city of Piraeus, as they fell behind to a Danijel Cesarec penalty on the stroke of half-time.

After producing an indifferent first-half performance, the Croatian’s goal heaped further pressure on the side that suffered an embarrassing early exit from the UEFA Champions League during mid-week at the hands of Cypriot champions Anorthosis Famagusta. Valverde will have been relieved to see his new team rally in the second-half, as Argentine winger Luciano Galletti scored twice in the space of two minutes before Serbian striker Darko Kovacevic netted late in the game, helping deliver an important win for the Erythrolefki.

PAOK began their league campaign with a notable 2-0 away victory against OFI Crete, as manager Fernando Santos handed competitive debuts to eight of his new summer signings at the Pankritio Stadium. It has been a highly successful summer for the traditional powerhouses of the Thessaloniki, with the club managing to secure a number of high profile signings ahead of the upcoming season.

The recruitment policy of the Dikefalos tou Vorra has at least been partly vindicated by an impressive performance against the Cretans, with new-boy Marcos Antonio opening the scoring after just eight minutes, before Sergio Conceicao provided a sublime finish to a wonderful team move four minutes before the break. The significance of the victory also resides in the fact that PAOK suffered from woeful away form last season, finishing ninth and missing out on European football.

Newly-promoted Panthrakikos appeared to be heading for something of an upset when they took the lead after 29 minutes against fellow relegation contenders Ergotelis, as Chilean Cesar Henriquez gave the home side a dream start.

Their joy was to be relatively short lived, as Nigerian striker Patrick Ogunsoto scored a brace after returning to Ergotelis during the summer for his second stint with the club. The forward equalised just seven minutes into the second-half from close range and broke Panthrakikos hearts when he scored a winner in similar fashion with just eight minutes of normal time remaining.

On Sunday, Aris Thessaloniki put the disappointments of Thursday’s early UEFA Cup exit behind them as Enrique Hernandez’s outfit produced an attractive display of attacking football on their way to a 2-0 home victory over Levadiakos.

Spanish midfielder Javito came off the bench in the 57th minute to inspire his side, scoring a goal with 24 minutes remaining before setting-up Poland international Piotr Włodarczyk to put a seal on the result just ten minutes later.

New Skoda Xanthi signing Nabil Taider marked his debut for the club with a contender for goal-of-the-season, as his side registered something of an upset when they grabbed a 1-0 victory away against Panionios. Both clubs have had to deal with the loss of their respective top goal-scorers from last season, with Rafik Djebbour leaving the Nea Smyrni for AEK Athens over the weekend and Xanthi striker Tomasz Radzinski also departing after having spent just one season with the club.

The result is all the more surprising when considered in the context of a bizarre pre-season for Xanthi, during which the club’s administration hired and then proceeded to fire manager Ioannis Matzourakis. It was perhaps fitting that the manner of goal was similarly spectacular, as the former Toulouse man Taider lobbed Croatian goalkeeper Dario Kresic from inside his own half after just 14 minutes.

Last year’s Beta Ethniki champions Panserraikos made a fairytale start upon their return to the Greek Super League after a 16-year absence from the top-flight, recording a 2-1 away victory against Iraklis in an entertaining encounter at the Kaftanzoglio Stadium.

New signing Patrick Zoundi scored a sharp first-half double to stun local fans and send a strong traveling contingent of Liondara supporters into raptures, before Iraklis rallied to pull a goal back during a frantic second-half, when substitute Serge Die came off the bench to fire home a superb half-volley on his debut. Panserraikos survived a late onslaught from the Gireos however, as Giannis Papakostas’ side held on to record a memorable victory.

Larissa manager Marinos Ouzounidis handed high-profile summer signing Nolberto Solano his competitive debut for the club, as an under-strength Vyssini, without the services of striker Mbo Mpenza and Maciej Żurawski, recorded a 3-0 home win to ensure that Thrasyvoulos were handed an early reality check, having just gained promotion this season.

Former Newcastle United star Lauren Robert, another of Ouzounidis’ notable off-season acquisitions, was introduced to Greek domestic football after 87’ minutes of play but the result had been sealed before the end of forty-five minutes, as the home side raced into three-goal lead before the break.

AEK Athens earned a priceless opening-round derby victory over Athenian rivals Panathinaikos, as the Dikefalos Aetos ran out 2-1 winners at the Olympic Stadium.

The two sides have had a contrasting pre-season, with Panathinaikos revived financially and seeing a grandiose summer spending spree vindicated by qualification for the UEFA Champions League Group Stages, whilst AEK found themselves unceremoniously dumped out of the UEFA Cup by Cypriot side AC Omonia during the same week that president Demis Nikolaidis announced his impending resignation and star player Rivaldo left the club.

Despite well documented off-field problems plaguing the Kitrinomavri, Donis’ team produced a hard-working performance to earn a crucial win over Hank Ten Cate’s disjointed Panathinaikos outfit. It was a poor display by the Trifili, who looked a shadow of the side that beat Sparta Prague over two legs to qualify for Europe’s premier domestic competition.

Portuguese attacker Edinho opened the scoring for AEK with a stunning 20th minute strike before Ismael Blanco converted a dubious penalty on the stroke of half-time. Sweden international Daniel Majstorovic captained the Enosis, producing a man-of-the-match display alongside Greek stopper Sotiris Kyrgiakos at the heart of the AEK defence.

A Karagounis free-kick in the last minute of injury time curled inside the far-post after evading a crowd of bodies in the penalty area but it was too little too late for a Panathinaikos outfit fielding five current Greece internationals and already finding themselves behind in the race for the Greek Super League title.
 
Chris Paraskevas

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