PAOK ReloadedA year without a trophy was more than enough. PAOK returned to title-winning ways in dynamic fashion, continuing the club’s tradition in the Greek Cup and at the Olympic Stadium by winning yet another piece of that famous silverware. It was the 11th cup win in PAOK’s history, secured thanks to a 2-1 win over Olympiacos.
In an extremely difficult season, which was the first in the history of Greek football that took place without a single supporter in the stands due to the pandemic, PAOK experienced many ups and downs. From the big victories in the Champions League qualifiers, to the disappointment of the failure to enter the group stage of the competition. Then from some excellent performances in the Europa League group stage, to elimination before reaching the knockout rounds. Finally, from aiming to challenge for the league title to claiming second place.
The already unprecedented scenario became even more complicated with the differences in the squad and the change of coach in the middle of the campaign. The rollercoaster of emotions was then completed with PAOK being crowned Greek Cup winners in Athens for the third time in the last four years.
Simple and beautiful against Larissa and Lamia
The Double-headed Eagle’s adventures in the 2020-21 Greek Cup began in the round of 16. Larissa first stood in PAOK’s way, but progression to the quarter-finals was essentially decided after the first game. The absolute protagonist of the match was Christos Tzolis, who scored the first hat-trick of his career. The final 5-0 scoreline meant that the opposition were left with no chance to get back in the tie.
In the second leg, PAOK also won in Larissa by a 2-1 scoreline, with Harry Tsingaras scoring the first goal of his professional career and Michael Krmencik also finding the net with a header.
Lamia were next up in the quarter-finals. The Fthiotida club had received a bye along with Panathinaikos and were desperate to continue their tradition of dumping one of the big clubs out of the competition.
For about 45 minutes at the Toumba Stadium they seemed to be on the right track. PAOK were 1-0 up thanks to Tzolis’ sixth-minute goal, but the visitors equalized immediately, before Stefan Schwab restored PAOK’s lead. However, Adejo made it 2-2 before half-time.
PAOK kept their composure and entered the second half determined to swing the tie in their favor. Tzolis gave the home side the lead again, and then goals from both Krmencik and Rodrigo made it 5-2 – a result which put PAOK in the driving seat for a place in the semi-finals.
In the second leg, PAOK were able to managed the game better. The Double-headed Eagle took the lead thanks to a beautiful goal from Nika Ninoa following an assist by Shinji Kagawa. Lamia managed to equalize through James, but PAOK went through comfortably via a 6-3 aggregate scoreline.
The semi-final showdown with AEK
The now well-established battle of the Double-headed Eagles in the cup came a little earlier than usual this time. After three consecutive finals, with PAOK winning all three, the two clubs met in the last four during a period when the team was coming off a poor run of form.
In the first match at the OAKA, both AEK and PAOK mainly tried not to lose. A turgid and uneventful 90 minutes ensued. In added time, however, Thomas Murg came up with a moment a magic to score a brilliant, ‘buzzer-beater’ of a free-kick to give PAOK a 1-0 advantage to defend in the second leg.
Everything was to be decided at the Toumba. PAOK dominated the match, created and missed a host of opportunities – including a missed penalty by Vieirinhas in the 60th minute. Nine minutes later, Kostas Galanopoulos equalized the score from the first leg with a header!
It was then when the going got tough, that PAOK showed their character. Krmencik came off the bench, collected a great pass from Baba Rahman and equalized with a powerful strike from a difficult angle. Andrija Zivkovic then rubber-stamped PAOK’s place in the final against Olympiacos with a superb lob in the final few seconds of the match.
A memorable final followed by a party at the White Tower
The setting was perfect. The two leading teams in the country in recent years went toe to toe at the OAKA, with the Greek Cup trophy up for grabs. Everyone hoped to see a memorable match and they got their wish.
Both teams came out on the pitch seemingly determined to give their all and fight until the last player was standing. And so the match had it all. Goals, chances, one-on-one duels, intensity, passion, strength and a fast tempo.
PAOK were the better side in the first half and hit the crossbar through Swiderski before taking the lead courtesy of a penalty converted by Vieirinha.
Olympiacos responded quickly though, equalizing at the start of the second half thanks to M’Vila, and from that moment on it was end to end stuff.
There were chances for both teams, with both goalkeepers taking a leading role. Paschalakis kept his team in the match with a strong of impressive saves.
In the last 10 minutes after Tsingaras and Krmencik came off the bench, PAOK began to assert their authority once more, missing two good chances. However, the Czech managed to get it right at the third time of asking.
Tsingaras played the ball through to A. Zivkovic, who had his back to goal. The Serb produced an incredible backheel pass to send Kremencik clean through on goal against Jose Sa, and the PAOK striker did not miss this time to make it 2-1 in the 89th minute.
In the minutes that followed, Olympiacos lay siege to Paschalakis’s goal, but the PAOK goalkeeper had the answers to all of the questions thrown at him, and the players celebrated wildly when the final whistle was blown.
A heroes’ welcome at «Eleftherios Venizelos» airport and all night in Thessaloniki
The cup winners then took their trophy prize for the “usual” tour. The supporters who live in Athens there to greet the team coach at the capital’s «Eleftherios Venizoelos» airport, giving them a stunning send-off with flares and songs.
The picture was similar but on a larger scale at the Macedonia Airport in Thessaloniki. Thousands of people turned out to welcome the team and then the party really started.
The team bus arrived at the White Tower after a long journey. The players were treated to what has become a well-established party in the city center to celebrate another title with all of their hearts and souls.