An inspired performance by Sebastian Saja earned AEK a deserved win over rivals Olympiakos last week, clinching second spot in the Greek Super League play-offs behind PAOK.
Aris leap-frogged Olympiakos thanks to a 3-2 at home to PAOK, finishing in third place.
AEK cemented second spot to clinch a berth in the play-off round of next season’s UEFA Europa League, while Olympiakos finished at the bottom of the play-off table and will start their Europa League campaign in the second qualifying round at some of European footballing backwaters.
AEK started off brilliantly in front of their home fans at the OAKA Spyros Louis Stadium as Kostas Manolas sent the crowd into pandemonium just six minutes into the contest.
But Olympiakos responded just minutes later as Giannis Papadopoulos capped an Olympiakos attack with a clever chip over Saja, levelling the score at 1-1 after ten minutes.
From there, Olympiakos’ luck in front of goal was very limited, while Saja’s brilliance between the posts was exceptional. The Argentine goal keeper showed his class, but only after he had some insurance as AEK regained the lead early in the second half through Ismael Blanco.
Saja’s biggest test came shortly after and the AEK custodian passed with flying colours as he made several key stops, including an acrobatic swatting of Papadopoulos’ header, as well as a goal-line save on Oscar Gonzalez’s effort in spite of the presence Avraam Papadopoulos.
Meanwhile, the Thessalonica derby saw Aris pip arch-rivals PAOK with Javier Campora scoring the winner in a 3-2 for the home side.
An own goal from Stelios Malezas and strikes from Javito and Campora set Aris on their way to a win over their local rivals.
PAOK levelled twice through Thanassis Papazoglou and Bruno Cirillo.
The result condemns Olympiakos to the foot of the table, and makes for a tricky start to Olympiakos European campaign as the port-city side will kick-off their Europa League campaign in mid-July.
As a result of finishing second, AEK will play their first Europa League matches on August 19 and 26 while Olympiakos will have to prepare for a July 15 start.
PAOK’s Champions League Qualifying campaign
PAOK faces a very difficult route to qualify for the Champions League group stage in 2010/11. The Macedonian side will go into the ‘Non-champions’ qualification path and as PAOK is unseeded, they will meet one of the following seeded teams in the 3rd Qualification Round: Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia), Ajax (Amsterdam), Fenerbahce (Turkey), Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine) or Braga (Portugal).
If PAOK successfully negotiates the 3rd round, the side will then meet an even bigger opponent in the final Playoff Round. PAOK could then play other aformetioned seeded sides, who won their ties or one of the following: Sevilla (Spain), Werder Bremen (Germany) or Tottenham Hotspur (England).