First league title in over 30 years? Check. Undefeated throughout their entire domestic season? Check. Acquisition of their second consecutive Cup trophy after reaching their third final in three years? Check. First double in the club’s over-90-year history? Check. We don’t know what could happen in the years to come, but there really isn’t much left (bar winning a European title) that this PAOK side wasn’t able to do. One could argue that Razvan Lucescu’s side had the most success within a single season in Greek football history. And it seems that this could just be the start of even greater things to come for the Thessaloniki club.
Within the series of unfortunate events that seem to occur in the Australian Football Federation that seems to have alienated crowds from the game, there remains a shining beacon of light that shows the way for how a proper organisation that values its followers needs to operate. Football Victoria has constantly helped out its local clubs, from grassroots all the way to the NPL level and worked beside them rather than alienate them. Their recent initiatives with the live-streaming of all NPL games on YouTube as well as the recent announcement of a $15-million promise by the Federal Government in order to build the Matildas’ base in Melbourne are but only a few of the moves that Football Victoria have taken towards improving the sport. Perhaps the FFA should take note.
At the start of the season, the 29-year-old midfielder seemed to be an afterthought for then-coach Rui Vitoria, who seemed to prefer the likes of Samaris’ former teammate at Olympiacos Ljubomir Fejsa to cover the defensive midfielder’s position. This led to many rumours surrounding his name and other clubs. But none of this seemed to bother Samaris, who continued to work hard in training while waiting for his opportunity. This came when Bruno Lage replaced Rui Vitoria at the manager’s spot and restored Samaris back to the starting line-up. He has not regretted this decision, and the Greek international player has now become an integral part of the Benfica squad. So much so that his contract will be extended for another four years.
The young gun has come a long way since he blitzkrieged to international attention at the Australian Open. Ranked World No 7 after his recent run to the Madrid Open final where he beat Rafael Nadal on a clay court. And even though Tsitsipas lost to Novak Djokovic in the final, 6-3 6-4, it was apparent that the Greek would be a force for the years to come. He tweeted: “I have never been more excited for the future… like never!” Rightly so!
This season was definitely a step back for the yellow-and-black team that went from being champions to third-place winners. The change on the bench (Manolo Jimenez returned to replace Marinos Ouzounidis) seemed to have worked in favour of the former champions, however by that time all was lost as even the second position that leads to next season’s Champions League qualifiers was taken by Olympiacos who were too far out of reach. Rumour has it that the Spaniard will remain for the following season, meaning he will be able to continue his work and create a more competitive side that will provide a strong challenge for both PAOK and Olympiacos.
What can be said about a squad that costs almost $2 million more than any other in Australian football, yet surrenders without even putting up a fight against a more spirited and well-read Sydney FC side? The greatest margin of the responsibility of course falls on Kevin Muscat for not being able to properly guide these players, but the players are not entirely without fault, as they should have at least lost with a more dignified score rather than let themselves be humiliated with a heavy 6-1 score. You wouldn’t expect such a horrendous performance by a team with the likes of Honda, Toivonen or Niedermeier…
GREEK U17 FOOTBALL TEAM
The youngsters participated in the group stage of the recent European Championship in Ireland, yet their performances left much to be desired. Getting only one point in their first game against the hosts (thanks to a goal in the closing minutes of the game), the Greek youths then went on to lose both their remaining two ties against Belgium (3-0) and the Czech Republic (0-2). Hopefully this tournament works as a learning experience for the future as they rise up the ranks.