Title again...with a triumph against Olympiacos
PAOK’s start to the 1999-2000 season was far from promising. Just three wins in 9 league encounters, a home loss to Paniliakos, a 4-1 thrashing by Olympiacos at Piraeus… The team needed an electric shock to turn the tide around. Arie Haan left and Stavros Sarafis took over as interim coach until Dušan Bajević’s arrival in early January. The Bosnian coach had parted ways with Olympiacos a few months earlier. After making his PAOK debut in the 1-1 draw against Panionios at Nea Smyrni, he would lead his troops in the one-legged Greek Cup tie against Olympiacos in Athens’ Olympic Stadium.
On 12 January 2000, PAOK lost 2-1 to Olympiacos in the “last 16” stage of the competition, the goals by Alexis Alexandris (2’) and Stelios Giannakopoulos (54’) sandwiching Nikos Froussos’ spot kick in the 19th minute. It was the second consecutive elimination of the “Double-Headed Eagle” in the “last 16” stage of the Greek Cup. The former, suffered at the hands of Panserraikos in 1997-98 and sealed with a goal by Ipirotis, was understandably much more painful.
The following season would see a changed format in the Greek Cup. The first round consisted of a group stage and it would begin in early August with matches resembling to preseason friendlies. The three remaining matchdays would be played in October and November. PAOK ended the stage undefeated and demure, scoring 35 goals in 10 encounters. The draw for the “last 16” paired them with Aris.
The first leg was held at Charilaou. Giotis Egomitis’s goal in the 41st minute canceled Panagiotis Katsiaros opener (37’). At Toumba, PAOK left nothing to chance and sealed their qualification through efforts by Koulakiotis and Pantelis Konstantinidis.
Those ties against Aris were the toughest hurdles that PAOK had to overcome until the final. In the quarter-finals, PAOK lined up two 2-0 victories (home and away) over Xanthi.
In the semis, Olympiacos were drawn against Iraklis, while PAOK would have to fend off ambitious Apollon Smyrni, the competition’s sensation who had reached the semis despite featuring in the second tier. The “Double-Headed Eagle” eased to a 5-2 victory at Toumba in the first leg, turning the Rizoupoli match into a formality. PAOK suffered their only Greek Cup defeat that season, as Apollon won 1-0 with a Thodoris Papadimitriou’ goal.
Pantelis Kafes was the longest-serving player of PAOK that season, having been at Toumba since the 1996-97 season. He was the one to reveal what the final meant for the “Double-Headed Eagle”. “We are ready to make history. It’s been ten years since the team played in a final, 16 years since winning the league, while our last Greek Cup trophy dates back to 1974. All that resumes what winning the trophy means to us”, the midfielder of PAOK said.
In a symbolic, yet meaningful move on the eve of the final, the major shareholder of PAOK FC Giorgos Batatoudis handed the presidency to Petros Kalafatis. Kalafatis was the club’s president when they won their last league title. In the announcement, he was labeled as “champion president” and was given a free hand to form a new administration.
Administrative problems overshadowed every activity at PAOK back then. Giorgos Georgiadis spoke about fans waiting so long for a trophy and said that this success was the team’s atonement: “A huge burden has been lifted off our shoulders. Four-five months ago we were not expecting something like this, but we remained united, believed in ourselves and are absolutely satisfied because we made our fans so happy”.
Dušan Bajević was credited for keeping the team in balance, but was quick to dismiss any notion that one person should get all accolades. It was a strong experience for him as well, as he got behind the wheel of PAOK’s bus to drive a few kilometers. The gates of the White Tower were flung open to receive the stars of the triumph who would present their trophy to the fans.
The expedition of PAOK had celebrated the Greek Cup win in an Athens night-club, where Pantelis Kafes got to reveal his new tattoo on the right arm, themed after the final, and his rasta hairstyle. In the following morning, a grand reception was staged in Thessaloniki as fans were eagerly awaiting for their heroes. A huge motorcade of people celebrating, wanting to kiss the trophy and crying tears of joy accompanied PAOK’s bus from the airport to the White Tower.
However, at the back of everyone’s mind, there was the issue of Dušan Bajević: would he remain or not at the helm of the team? H admitted that “I don’t want to leave, I want to honour my contract with PAOK. However, if the situation doesn’t change, I cannot hang around and fool myself or the team”. Petros Kalafatis, on the other hand, was sending out signs of hope that everything would work out fine and that Bajević would see out his contract. He was proved right, as the Bosnian tactician remained until the end of the 2001-02 season.