Greek soccer league no longer a 1-horse race
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — With the financial gap in Greek soccer getting smaller and smaller, Olympiakos is finding it harder and harder to stay at the top.
The perennial Greek champions — the team has won 19 of the last 22 league titles — are normally already well out front by mid-October. But this year, Olympiakos is only in fourth place following a 1-1 draw with defending champion AEK Athens at the Olympic Stadium.
"For all the teams chasing the title, it isn't enough to create chances. Those chances need to be finished," said Olympiakos coach Pedro Martins, a former midfielder who played one match for Portugal. "We didn't make that happen today. It cost us the game today."
Olympiakos midfielder Kostas Fortounis gave his team the lead in the 58th minute on Sunday, but Tasos Bakasetas equalized in the 90th with a powerful header. Giannis Fetfatzidis could have scored the winner for Olympiakos, but he missed an open goal in the final seconds.
The draw comes a week after Olympiakos lost to league leader PAOK Thessaloniki, which has won all six of its matches but has only 16 points because it started the season with a two-point penalty. Atromitos, a small Athens-based team, also has 16 points but trails on goal difference.
AEK and Olympiakos have 13 points each.
The renewed competitiveness for the Greek league title comes at a time when financial gap is closing. Olympiakos is still the most valuable team in the league with an estimated worth of 64 million euros ($74 million), while PAOK is valued at nearly 60 million euros ($69 million). AEK, which has battled back to the top division after going bankrupt five years ago and winning successive promotions from amateur leagues, has caught up to nearly 40 million euros ($46 million).
The rules of how soccer is run have also changed.
Danish referee Kristoffer Kristoffersen was in charge at Sunday's game after a shakeup introduced this season bringing overseas officials in to be used at every major Greek match.
Clashes between AEK fans and police did break out at halftime on Sunday, but criticism normally leveled at the referee after key matches was muted.