Well, we didn’t see THAT one coming. The Superleague kicked off and if yοu put the rather tame Kerkyra – Platanias game aside (which ended with a nevertheless impressive 1-0 win for the visiting Cretans), the first batch of games was rather – dare we say it? – fun. No, scratch that, they constituted what was arguably the best start to a Greek League in recent memory. We saw goals, some high scoring bouts of football and some refreshing dollops of flair. Who were these teams and what had they done to our precious, footballing snoozefest?
Having calmed down and having had some water, it’s time that we looked back on what we learnt from Day 1 of this season’s Superleague:
• Hugo Almeida is a beast. Not literally obviously. He’s not shooting atomic rays out of his mouth and crushing downtown Tokyo, but by golly he looks like a proper player. A proper center forward. We knew he had the muscle to push folks out of the way, but against Xanthi he also locked, loaded, aimed and unleashed a thunderbuss of a shot that basically bellowed: “I’m here to do damage”.
• Marco Marin is on a mission. He was once tagged with the next-big-thing-of German-football tag (even though he’s quite wee bless him), but a disastrous transfer to Chelsea, which saw him go out on loan to any team with a bench and a bus (sort of), all but wiped this talented player of the map. And what a waste that would have been. Now finally in a team that wants him and has signed him on a full transfer, Marin looks hungry and on a mission to make up for lost time. Creating havoc either on the flanks just behind a lone striker, the German – by way of Serbia – schemer looks already to be one of the signings of the season. His Olympiakos stay could be short.
• Panathinaikos are no longer a one man team. Over the last few seasons, PAO frontman Marcus Berg has looked like an increasingly frustrated figure. Marked, double marked and physically clattered out of games, the Swede finally has some back-up. In Victor Ibarbo, he looks to have found a proper striking partner, with the on-loan Colombian bull rushing through defensive backlines, thus creating space for Berg to shoot and create. Add where-the-heck-did-he-come-from Mubarak Wakaso to the mix, with his all action style and the Swede is no longer the only source of threat to opposition defences. Deep breaths Marcus.
• (whisper it) Could this PAOK side do the impossible and win the league? Ever since Vladan Ivic took over, PAOK have slowly been moving towards a playing style that echoes that of their coach, when he was still strutting his stuff on the field. Pragmatic, balanced, but with just the right amount of flair from some truly livewire flank play, PAOK finally appear to have the brains and patience to break down defences, although as long as they remain wasteful in front of goal, they could still come undone. For now, it’s all rosy in Salonika.
• The king will not be toppled easily. For all the talk of league champions Olympiakos coming apart at the seams after their Champions League no-show and transfer activity issues, their dismantling of Veria was an aggressive message to the rest of the division. Granted, Veria are a very poor side, who could well be out of the division itself by the time this piece sees print, but even so, the Piraeus side was ruthless, presenting a brand of football that was in equal parts exciting to watch and frightening to note if your’re an opponent. The champions are still here. And they want everyone to know it.
• Don’t write off Iraklis just yet. Faced with massive financial problems and with an owner looking desperately for a way out, Iraklis spent the summer trying to stem the flow of players leaving the team and looked to easily be a side dropping straight to the second division. Playing the first game of the season away at Larisa however, Iraklis looked like a team in no hurry to exit the stage. With youngster Lazaros Lambrou looking like a bright prospect and Leozinho conducting proceedings from midfield, Iraklis left Larisa with a precious point in a thrilling 2-2 encounter. Were those voices predicting an early Supeleague demise for the Salonika side watching?
• It wouldn’t be the Superleague without some drama. Larissa head honcho and all-round short-fuse Alexis Kougias wasn’t too keen on the way his side lost those precious 3 points against Iraklis. Goalkeeper Matias Degra served up some pretty dodgy let’s-go-dribble-past-some-opposition-players madness in the closing minutes of the game, the ball fell to the lurking Leozinho and the Brazilian eagerly bundled the ball home, snatching a point for Iraklis. Kougias was furious and faced up to Degra as the Argentinean was trundling off the pitch. Strong words were exchanged, the two men got slightly slap-happy and the show ended with Kougias getting pushed to the ground. Degra was promptly booted out of the team and is considering an early retirement. Ah, only in Greece.
All in all, it was entertaining. Could it all switch back to being matches of terrible, terrible football and deplorable servings of bad tempered action? Sure. After all it was only week 1. There’s plenty of time for it all to go down the drain once more. But just for now, just because the sun is still shining and just because we got damn excited at some real, honest-to-God great football, let’s just say it’s going to go like this all the way till the end.
Just don’t tell Matias Degra we’re jumping with joy, because HIS first week went like this:
– train for match
– play match
– do a very, VERY stupid thing
– cost team three points
– get slapped
– get fired
Poor, poor Matias.