PAOK Still the Best Team in the World After Easy Win Over Xanthi
The three-horse race for Greek Super League supremacy continued this past weekend as Panathinaikos, Olympiakos, and PAOK all picked up maximum points.
The results ensure the two-point gap between the leading trio remains, but while Panathinaikos hold pole position and Olympiakos occupy second place through goal difference, PAOK have their own reason to boast: Barney Corkhill's Unofficial World Club Championship (UWCC ).
The match in which they won the title, last week's top-of-the-table clash against Panathinaikos, was their 15th win in their last 19 games, a superb record that has ensured their inclusion in the title race.
Their opponents this past Saturday, FC Xanthi, have not been in such good form, without a win in five and struggling in 12th place going into the match.
PAOK made it 16 wins from 20 and Xanthi extended their win-less streak to six in the end after a comfortable away win for the visitors which temporarily put them top of the table.
Their intent was signalled early on as they made short work of building an advantage over their hosts.
Indeed, it took them less than ten minutes to get the game's opening goal. A Lino free-kick from the left flank was whipped into the box, perfectly onto the head of an unmarked Vieirinha at the near post.
The Portuguese midfielder's effort just crept inside the post, despite Xanthi goalkeeper Michael Gspurning getting a hand to it.
Just five more minutes passed before PAOK's lead doubled, and again Vieirinha was heavily involved.
After some nice build up play, the scorer of the first goal was slid through by an inch-perfect pass before reaching the by-line and standing an enticing ball up in the middle of the penalty area.
Once again, a PAOK player rose unchallenged, this time Vladimir Ivic , to head the ball into a virtually empty net.
It all looked too easy for Fernando Santos' men in the first 15 minutes, with Xanthi barely threatening and PAOK controlling the game.
The home side began to find their feet a little more after the frenetic opening, even creating a chance when a decent hooked volley tested Konstantinos Chalkias' reactions
This seemed to give Xanthi a little more hope and, with PAOK content to soak up the pressure for a while with their two goal cushion, the home side began venturing into dangerous areas more often.
A reoccurring theme was the lack of a killer ball in the final third, however, as a number of promising crosses evaded their intended targets by mere inches.
Despite their improvement, half-time saw two changes for Xanthi to try and address this problem, one of whom was former Wigan striker Nathan Ellington.
But the gap in quality between the two sides was clear to see all game, and PAOK should have got a third goal shortly after half-time when defender Stelios Malezas missed two glorious chances in the space of a few seconds.
The first came from a free-kick from the left. Once again, the marking left a lot to be desired, and Malezas found himself six yards out with the 'keeper the closest to him.
But the 'keeper was all that was needed as Malezas' diving header was well saved by Gspurning. The clamour to be first to the rebound was also won by the Austrian shot-stopper as he tipped the ball over his crossbar.
As it turned out, the third goal had not been denied, but merely delayed as the away side put the game beyond doubt just after the hour mark.
Again, the Xanthi defence was spilt open with a through ball down the wing, and the resulting low cross found an onrushing Vieirinha to slide in his second of the game.
That was the end of the goals, but not an end of the chances as Xanthi looked for a consolation and PAOK looked for humiliation.
A vicious free-kick from substitute Luciano almost gave the home side their wish, only to be denied at the near post by Chalkias, while the visitors came even closer in a dramatic goalmouth scramble 12 minutes from time.
It began with a good near-post header by Zlatan Muslimovic which was well saved, resulting in the ball falling to Ivic. The Serbian midfielder attempted to round the last defender before slotting the ball into the open net, but he was brought down.
The referee chose to play on, and Olivier Sorlin almost took full advantage when he smashed his shot against the crossbar.
The ref perhaps should have pulled play back for a penalty, but given the 3-0 lead, the protests from the PAOK players weren't as vocal as they may have been under different circumstances.
The 3-0 scoreline is the joint biggest winning margain in UWCC title matches this season, and Xanthi gained the unique distinction of being the 50th different team to challenge for the title.
Of the 45 voters in the poll, 80 percent correctly predicted that PAOK would avoid defeat to Xanthi, so well done to the vast majority!
Barney's prediction: PAOK win (2-0) Actual result: PAOK win (2-0)
Correct prediction streak: One match in a row!
PAOK 2-1 Panathinaikos (PAOK become new champions)
Xanthi 0-3 PAOK
( Click here to see the complete history of Barney Corkhill's Unofficial World Club Championship)
PAOK's next UWCC title defence comes on Sunday as they host bottom of the table Panthrakikos in the Super League.
Form Book (last five matches): PAOK - LDWWW; Panthrakikos - WWLWL
Barney's prediction: PAOK 4-0 Panthrakikos
What are your predictions for this upcoming fixture?
Will Panthrakikos be able to pull off a massive upset, or will the game go to form and result in another win for the title-chasing PAOK?
Voice your opinions in the comments section!
Video highlights from Xanthi 0-3 PAOK can be seen here .
Where would it be now?
This week, "Where would it be now?" continues to track the alternative route of the UWCC title from the start of the season!
Last week we saw that Stoke beating Chelsea would have lead to Everton winning the title, but where would it be if Porto had beaten Chelsea on Sept. 15, 2009?
Porto would have lost the title to Braga on Sept. 19, 2009.
Braga would have lost the title to Guimaraes on Nov. 7, 2009.
Guimaraes would have lost the title to Porto on Dec. 4, 2009.
Porto would have lost the title to Benfica on Dec. 20, 2009.
Benfica would still have the title!
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