A Cup triumph in Toumba
In the summer of 2002, PAOK kicked off their season in style, defeating Panathinaikos 4-1 at Toumba in the opening match of the league. The club were in dire financial straits but that didn’t impede the team from maintaining a steady course.
In the middle of the season, PAOK were second in the league standings, level on points with Olympiacos and just two lengths away from leaders Panathinaikos. Meanwhile, the “Double-Headed Eagle” were also advancing in the Greek Cup. After dismissing lower-tier sides in the first two rounds of the competition (Leonidio and Olympiacos Volos), they faced OFI close to the Christmas holidays.
On 19 December 2002, OFI secured a draw in empty Toumba -the match was held behind closed doors as PAOK were serving a ban for crowd trouble. Head coach Angelos Anastasiadis declared himself pleased with the result, considering all the setbacks the team was facing. “It was an unattractive match. But I will qualify it as good, given all the problems we have”. According to reports, players had not been paid. As for Pantelis Kafes, he was taken off the pitch due to dizziness.
The return leg took place at Crete on 8 January 2003. PAOK were fresh out of a 2-0 league defeat by Panionios at Nea Smyrni four days earlier. OFI took the lead with an Alexandre Soares’ header following a cross by Metodi Deyanov.
After falling behind, PAOK applied overwhelming pressure squeezing OFI in their box. The Cretans’ coach Zdeněk Ščasný admitted afterwards that “PAOK were superior to us quality-wise”. The “Double-Headed Eagle” sealed their qualification with a header by Dimitris Salpingidis at the stroke of the hour, after Dimitris Markos crossed and Giorgos Georgiadis lobbed the ball.
PAOK would face Olympiacos in the quarter-finals of the competition, the calendar dictating two encounters in a span of four days. On 23 February 2003, they faced off at Rizoupoli for the league. PAOK lost 4-3 and remained third in the standings, eight points behind leaders Panathinaikos and six behind second-placed Olympiacos.
The unsporting and unprofessional conduct of Olympiacos’ midfielder Christian Karembeu, who headbutted Giannis Okkas in the 87th minute and then punched Pantelis Kafes, added tension to the Greek Cup match between the two sides that would kick off three days later.
PAOK couldn’t hope for a better start at Toumba, as they were already 2-0 up in the 31st minute, courtesy of goals by Georgiadis and Markos. However an erroneous decision of referee Tsagarakis in the 44th minute set the match on fire and objects were thrown from the stands onto the pitch. Castillo had dived, Tochouroglou didn’t touch him, but the referee pointed to the spot and permitted Olympiacos to reduce distances. Three minutes from time, Okkas made it 3-1 for PAOK who edged closer to qualification.
PAOK coach Angelos Anastasiadis drew the picture in his post-match press conference: “I told the guys in the dressrooms that we would be sitting on a powder keg and that we would determine how the match would unfold. I am only interested about tomorrow. Only a few people at PAOK care about the team’s future. We have been on our knees, beaten up since summer. It would be a huge blow for us, had the match been abandoned. You can’t understand what I am talking about if you haven’t put on a football kit. We are here to promote football. You can go on with your criticism, guys laugh at that in the dressrooms, but you haven’t still realized the condition we are in since last summer”.
At the time of the Rizoupoli leg, on 12 March 2003, the morale at both camps was low. PAOK had just lost to Iraklis at Toumba and Olympiacos were defeated by AEK at home. The “Double-Headed Eagle” were more composed on the pitch and made light work of their rivals’ profligacy. Scoring twice in two minutes through Georgiadis and Okkas, PAOK rushed to a 2-0 lead all but securing their passage to the semis. Lampros Choutos reduced distances in the 76th minute but to no avail. The Thessaloniki club made it to the final four of the competition with two victories.
PAOK were paired with AEK in the semi-finals, while Aris faced Egaleo. Anastasiadis’ troops stamped their authority on the tie, with a hard-fought win at Nea Filadelfia. Giasemi scored in the 40th minute, after Tsiartas’ turnover in midfield prompted the launch of a fine counterattack move and an assist by Okkas.
In the second leg, AEK took the lead after just 8 minutes through Christos Maladenis. Okkas leveled in the 87th minute, securing PAOK’s passage to the final and preventing an extra-time ordeal.
The Greek Cup final was to be held at Toumba Stadium between PAOK and Aris. On the eve of the match, Angelos Anastasiadis complained about the huge buffer zones that reduced the seating capacity dramatically. He then spoke about his team’s situation: “I believe in this team and the guys deserve to win the Greek Cup. The way things stand now, PAOK will dissolve no matter what. We are under… destruction. It’s not what Anastasiadis can do, but what will those who are around the club bring to the table. My concern is to finish the season on a high note. Everything that happened to us lately aimed at taking the players’ mind and soul off the final”.
On 17 May 2003 at Toumba Stadium, PAOK won the Greek Cup thanks to a goal by Giorgos Georgiadis following a fine pass by Dimitris Markos in the 25th minute. The “Double-Headed Eagle” were in control of proceedings throughout the encounter and were rarely bothered by Aris who opted for defensive tactics. The Thessaloniki “yellows” tried to claw their way back into the game in the final minutes, but Morris, teed-up by Braga, saw his shot denied by the woodwork.
Needless to say that no member of the club’s administration attended the trophy celebration that took place after the match. The players demanded straight out to be left alone –as they had been throughout the season- to celebrate with their coach Angelos Anastasiadis.