welcome to gate 13
Are you red or are you green? It's that simple in Greek Soccer. While there are other teams in the league, none have as many fans of either these two clubs. It's time for first of two games between Panathinaikos and Olympiacos.
The Greens, or PAO, enter the game in first place through seven rounds of action in the Greek Super League. PAO's season has been a mixed one on and off the field. Greece's bleak financial situation didn't escape PAO as they were forced to sell several players in the transfer window.
Bowing out of the Champions League dealt another blow, but it got worse when they were bounced out of the Europa League. Losing the potential cash from the European games, PAO bounced back domestically.
News surrounding the club of a potential new owner keeps PAO in the news off the field. With Saudi Prince Sultan al-Saud said to be purchasing 55 percent of the team by the end of November, things are about to change in Greek Soccer.
The Reds, or Olympiacos, are the defending champions who are off to a good start. Unfazed by the financial issues of other Greek teams, the champs were aggressive in the summer transfer window acquiring several players.
Looking to add yet another trophy to their impressive history, Olympiacos will host the first of two between their bitter rivals.
Since 1995, Olympiacos has simply dominated Greek Soccer. Whether in the old First Division or new Superleague (re-branded first Division) Olympiacos has won 13 out of 15 championships. Overall they have won 38 championships, which is two more than all the other Greek clubs combined.
Panathinaikos has won 20 championships, second only to Olympiacos. Their last championship was in 2009-2010 season. While not as dominant in league play, Panathinaikos is Greece's only team to make a European final.
Last year, each team won their respective home games, but Olympiacos' 2-1 victory in Pireaus was what most people remember. PAO had two goals disallowed on some questionable decisions by the referee.
Besides losing on the pitch, PAO fans were disgusted by the actions of Olympiacos fans and management as they stormed the field and caused a near riot.
Olympiacos owner Vagelis Marinakis attacked PAO players Georgios Karagounis and Djibril Cisse at the conclusion of the game. Many feel that Marinakis crossed the line following the game and that he should remove himself from the team.
Racism at the game cost PAO its top player, Djibril Cisse, at the end of the season. Not wanting any part of bananas thrown at his direction or to be attacked by fans, Cisse demanded and got his transfer out of PAO to Lazio in July.
The violence on and off the pitch between the teams caused AEK president Stavros Adamidis to call for the Greek government to call stop the next few rounds of games, allowing things to cool down before things really got out of hand.
Jesualdo Ferreira took over the reigns at PAO in November of 2010. He guided PAO to a second place finish in league play and first in the Greek Superleague Playoffs. The playoff win earned PAO a Champions League 3rd Round playoff game.
Before joining PAO, Ferreira lead FC Porto in Portugal to three consecutive tittle from 2006-2009. He also coached on the national level, leading the Portugal Under 21 team from 1996-2000. Ferreira will be looking to repeat his magic now for the Greens.
Ernesto Valverde is in his second stint as manager for Olympiacos. In his initial two year stint, Valverde led Olympiacos to back to back domestic titles and one Greek Cup title.
He left the club because of a salary dispute only to return a year later after Olympiacos struggled early in 2010. Valverde has won the title every year he has been at the helm at Olympiacos.
Valverde is no stranger to success in Europe as well. He led Espanyol to the UEFA Cup final in 2006 in his first season at the club.
Ernesto played for several teams in Spain during his playing days. While spending most of his time at Athletic Bilbao, he also played for Barcelona, Espanyol and Mallorca. He finished his career with 74 goal in his 14 year career.
worth the price
Olympiacos is currently in second place in the Greek Superleage. Having secured 17 points in their seven games Olympiacos will look to retake the lead from Panathinaikos on Saturday night.
In domestic play, Olympiacos have won five games and drawn two with zero losses. Ties against AEK and OFI have kept them from maximum points. The tie against newly promoted OFI is the most disappointing as they blew an early 2-0 lead.
In Champions League play, Olympiacos has only one win in their first four games against Arsenal, Brussia Dortmand and Olympic Marseille. With two games remaining, Olympiacos will need to rally to get into second place or finish in third place and advance to the Europa League round of 32.
Kevin Miralles has been the best player for the club since his arrival last year. With four goals in seven games, Miralles is continuing his great play from last year. His partner up front, Rafik Djebbour, has added six goals in seven games. Rafik, who transferred over from AEK in the winter transfer window, has scored key goals for Olympiacos.
In the midfield, Olympiacos has been battling injuries to key players. David Fuster has missed a month of the season, Giannis Fetfatzides missed three weeks and Ljubomir Fejsa has missed several weeks early in this season. Midfielders Ariel Ibazaga and Jean Makoun have helped out filling in while others have been in and out of the lineup.
In the back line, Vasilis Torosidis has returned to action after suffering a rib injury while with the Greek National team. His return will boost the back line that includes Greek internationals Avraam Papadopoulos, Giannis Zaradoukas and Swedish international Olof Mellberg. Add Jose Holabas, another Greek international, and the defense looks solid.
In goal Franco Constanzo has taken over as the new No. 1 for Olympiacos this year. Constanzo transferred from FC Basel and has been a steady player the for Reds.
After bouncing out of both European competitions in horrible style, PAO has rebounded to a first place showing through seven rounds in the Greek Super League.
Even with the financial issues abound, PAO has gotten wins in six out of seven games even with their young superstar Sotiris Ninis who is out until March with a knee injury.
The Greens are led by Sebastian Leto, who has scored 10 goals in seven games for the squad in the league. He has filled the void with the departure of Djibril Cisse who took his two golden boots with him to Italy. Leto, in his first three years in the Greek Super league, only totaled 9 goals in 67 games. A remarkable turnaround for Leto.
Veterans Kostas Katsouranis and Georgios Karagounis have solidified the midfield in the absence of Ninis. Transfers Zeca, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie and Vitiolo have added more solid play as they adapt to their new roles on this team.
On defense besides Jean-Alain Boumsong and Josu Sarriegi the rest of the squad has been a revolving door. Loukas Vyntra, Nikos Spyropoulos, Cedric Kante and Georgios Ioannidis have all had some playing time.
Between the posts 17 year old Stefanos Kapinos has taken over as this teams No. 1 goalie. This is a shocking development after former No. 1 Alexander Tzorvas was sold to Palermo in Italy and No. 2 Stefanos Kotsolis being injured.
The job then went to Orestis Karnezis but after his red card against Artomitos, PAO had no choice but to try Kapinos in net. The youngster hasn't disappointed and earned a spot on the Greek National team against Romania.
sea of red
This is a game where the records don't matter. For Olympiacos, the team is finally getting healthy and looking to improve their form as they are 2-2-1 in their last five games overall. The return of David Fuster and captain Vasilis Torosidis will help them.
For PAO, can Leto continue his incredible goal scoring streak? Having scored in all seven games in the Super League, Leto is on pace for 32 goals for the season. PAO is also riding the hot hand in Stefano Kapinos who hasn't missed a minute of action since Week 3. Kapinos has made several key saves to preserve wins against Xanthi and AEK.
The team that keeps its emotions in check and is able to keep them throughout the whole 90 minutes will be able to win the game. Both teams have veterans with big game experience so neither team has an edge. It will come down to whether Leto will be able to will this team to a victory, or will Djebbour find yet another timely goal to give Olympiacos a win.
OLYMPIACOS 1 PAO 1