A Fine Weekend To Be AEK
So, just a little over a week after we won our first Cup in so many years (despite the rather depressing events which followed after the match), us AEK fans were treated to yet another pleasing weekend. This time, however, the attention was not only on our football team, but also our Handball guys, a group of players who have fought hard and gave everything they had to offer to the club for the past three years. Saturday afternoon, our players took on PAOK in Thesaloniki, a match which was a must win if they wanted to claim the Championship. And, as is the norm recently, AEK emerged victorious over our rivals from the North. That’s right folks, only six years after our handball club was formed, we, for the first time in our history, are champions of Greece!
I went to wait for the players last night in Nea Filadelfia along with thousands of other AEK supporters and though the bus’ arrival was delayed by AEK fans from all over Greece (almost literally, as the bus had to make numerous stops on its way down so supporters could congratulate the players), the players received a reception that only true Champions deserve! It wasn’t until about 2:30 in the morning that the bus arrived in Filadelfia, along with a caravan of motorcycles and flares from fans who greeted the bus at the tolls outside Athens, but the celebrations were phenomenal. The entire street outside the offices of the Amateur division of AEK which runs the handball club was blocked off by bon fires and thousands of AEK fans who sang non stop for the entire hour or so that I was there after the bus arrived (and they were still singing when I left at 3:30) while the players were on the balcony of the offices with the trophy, joining in the celebrations as well. And I’ll tell everyone reading this post one thing: These players on our handball teams are true AEK supporters, people who love the club as much as we do! I hope they, along with us, will always remember this day, as it was a true celebration of what it means to be AEK!
As for the match itself, it was close, very close. We managed to take a firm lead quite early in the game thanks to some fantastic attacking, however PAOK slowly managed to cut back the lead as the match progressed. Towards the end, however, PAOK actually managed to take the lead, and with only 15 seconds left, they were leading 22-21. However, AEK, who refused to give up, managed to tie the game up at 22-22- with only seven seconds left before the one and only Christoforos Bakaoukas scored the game winning goal to clinch the Championship! I honestly can’t think of a better way to win the championship than by beating PAOK in their own home in such a way. If you watch the video below, you even see the PAOK fans calling their players champions as they were so sure the win was theirs.
So, on to football. We started the game (at the lovely time of 9:45 on a Sunday night) knowing PAOK had beaten PAO 2-1 in Toumba, meaning a win for us would bring us to first place in the playoffs. I’m not sure if this was what the players were thinking, or maybe they were inspired by their cup win last weekend, but they came out strong and seemed intent on showing no mercy to the scum team from Volos. Lovely passing football and complete control of the match was all we saw from AEK from the first 10 minutes or so, with Leonardo playing a very active role in the match from early on. For the most part, our positioning was superb and the players were really gelling well together, with Leonardo forcing the ball into the box with his runs and Michel distributing superbly.
As the game progressed the tempo did drop slightly, though Olympiakos Volou rarely managed to gain much of an upperhand. Having said that, and despite the pressure we were applying, we still urgently needed a goal. Sure, we were playing some attractive football, and the players were clearly doing things right, but in front of the net we were simply not good enough for much of the match. The fact that our only goal of the match came from a penalty is an obvious indicator of this. However, I feel its too early to worry. We were creating chances, we came very close on a number of times and even hit the cross bar on one occasion, and with a bit more confidence and decisiveness in front of goal, we shouldn’t have as much of a hard time scoring in our upcoming matches.
And while I’m on the topic of scoring (or lack of), I feel obliged to bring up a certain player by the name of Nabil Baha. USELESS. He could hardly run after the first half, was clearly not match fit (or possibly just lazy), and missed two clear goalscoring opportunities (opportunities which Blanco would have had no problem scoring). I thank Baha for his goal in the Cup final, but the guy cannot play for us anymore. What Jimenez sees in him I will never know, but I really hope to see Blanco start the next match instead of him.
As for the rest of our players, a handful in my opinion deserve much credit. Dellas, Manolas, Georgeas, Michel, and Diop all played vital roles in our win today. Dellas brings experience to our team that very few players could provide while Manolas alongside him at centre back was simply solid in defending. Georgeas, though he may have been slightly sloppy at times, provided another dimension to our play down the right flank and, as always, defended with passion. Diop was simply solid at the back, providing cover for our defenders and midfielders. Also may have been sloppy and careless at times, but he still manages to hold on to the ball well, win it back when we lose it, and is always moving, always looking to do something, whether it be winning the ball back or providing cover for a player. Michel also provided a vital role today as his ball distribution was by far the best of anyone else today. He may not have played many fancy defense ripping through balls like Rivaldo, but his passes were always calculated and well placed.
Unfortunately, Libe was forced to leave the match as he picked up an injury. I have no idea at the moment how serious it is, or if he will be ready for the next match, however I truly hope we will be match fit by next Thursday as we will definitely be lacking without him up front.
So, not sure what else should be mentioned. First place in the playoffs and it looks like were heading in the right direction if we want to reach Champions League qualification. PAO were simply dreadful in their game with PAOK, so to be honest, I’m kind of looking forward to our game with them on Thursday because I’m confident we can get a win if we play solid.
Its getting late here, so tomorrow I’ll upload some videos and pictures from the celebrations in Nea Filadelfia.