The first trophy of the Savvidis eraThe long wait for a PAOK trophy is finally over. From now on, when speaking about the “Double-Headed Eagle’s” last title, we don’t refer to 2003 but to 2017. When PAOK prevailed 2-1 over AEK Athens in Panthessaliko Stadium and won the Greek Cup.
Five years after Ivan Savvidis’s arrival, the club added a trophy to their cabinet, confirming their continuous and consistent improvement on all levels. Free from the debt burden and past problems, PAOK are on the ascendency vying for the top in Greece.
PAOK had been deprived of trophy celebrations for 14 years. They finally claimed silverware again on 6 May 2017, as a reward of their outstanding work during the 2016-17 season. With several newcomers in their squad and Vladan Ivić remaining at the helm, the “Double-Headed Eagle” showed their potential early on. They were eliminated by AFC Ajax in the UEFA Champions League qualifying stage just because they were unlucky. They were clearly better than their rivals who made it to the UEFA Europa League final at the end of the season.
First Greek Cup battles
PAOK didn’t start well in the league, perhaps affected by the three-point deduction inflicted in 2015-16 season. They were impressive in the Greek Cup though. AEL Larissa, AO Trikala and Panelefsiniakos were unable to contain them in the group stage of the competition.
Panetolikos were the next obstacle on their course. A no-nonsense team who weren’t doing well in the league, therefore were extra motivated for success in the Greek Cup. The black-and-whites though rose to the challenge in impeccable fashion. In the Agrinio leg, on a waterlogged pitch, PAOK claimed an impressive 2-0 victory, Kitsiou and Klaus netting the goals in the last quarter. In Toumba Stadium, the “Double-Headed Eagle” confirmed their superiority displaying attractive football and landing a comfortable 4-1 win.
The Greek Cup draw paired them with Xanthi in the quarter-finals. The first leg ended with PAOK celebrating yet another away victory. Mystakidis scored the opener and Lazić equalized for the hosts, before his country-man Prijović came off the bench to seal PAOK’s win with an impressive strike, his first goal in the Greek Cup competition. Flawless chest control of the ball and volley to find the back of the net. In the second leg of Toumba Stadium, the Thrace outfit were determined to explore their options for qualification and played very well. PAOK focused more on defending their lead in the tie, lost 1-0 but celebrated their passage to the semi-finals.
Historic comeback and final
For the first time since 1949, the big four of Greek football made it to the semi-finals of the Greek Cup. It was a historic occasion and everyone geared up for huge battles: PAOK v Panathinaikos and Olympiakos v AEK Athens.
The first semi-final leg was held in Leoforos and didn’t go well for PAOK. Panathinaikos took the lead in the 21′ minute through Moledo and Henrique wasted a unique opportunity to make it 1-1 six minutes later. After the interval, PAOK pressured for the equalizer, while Glykos was holding the fort with impressive saves. The referee didn’t point to the white spot when Lod handed the ball and Panathinaikos scored their second of the evening with Leto, getting a healthy advantage in the tie.
However, at PAOK’s camp, nobody lost faith. Coach, players and the fans rallied behind the common goal and prepared for the Toumba leg. In the last training session before the clash, fans visited the team, declared their faith and tried to encourage them. The visiting side were better in the initial stages of the match and made some threatening visits to the “Double-Headed Eagle’s” box.
Pelkas gave PAOK the lead in the 14th minute with a stunning direct free-kick. Panathinaikos didn’t yield, but Glykos rose to the occasion and kept his goal intact. After the interval, Ivić introduced Biseswar on the pitch –the Dutchman was exactly what the “Double-Headed Eagle” needed, giving them that extra attacking boost. In the 48th minute, he fed Matos who levelled the tie with an excellent header.
Shakhov made it 3-0 with a textbook finish and, ten minutes later, Biseswar ran circles around Panathinanikos’s defence and teed up Prijović for the fourth goal that sealed PAOK’s triumph. Players and coaching staff along with the fans burst into celebration after the final whistle, having accomplished a mighty comeback and claimed a place in the Greek Cup final.
Superior team and deserved Cup winner
AEK overcame Olympiakos’s obstacle and completed the final line-up. Panthessaliko Stadium of Volos was chosen as venue of the Greek Cup final, but there were huge problems to face before the gates would open. Pitch and stands were far from ready and organizers engaged in a race against time in order to prepare everything. The final decision for the ‘go ahead’ was taken on the eve of the encounter!
In the pre-game match conference, Ivić stated: “We are aware of this encounter’s importance. All players are hugely motivated and we worked hard to come this far. There is one game left. We must prove we want this trophy”.
The pre-game of the encounter was far from ideal. Brainless fans from both clubs tried to disturb peace, but eventually logic prevailed, police did their duty (although late), both teams came out on the pitch embracing in order to calm spirits… Everything was –finally– ready for the match to kick off…
PAOK started strongly into the encounter, charging forward for an early goal. Their efforts paid off in the 24′ minute. Campos charged down from the right, slalomed away from everyone who tried to stop him and set up Biseswar for the opener. AEK replied immediately. Christodoulopoulos launched a long-range shot, Glykos failed to assess its trajectory and the Athenian outfit equalized with practically their first effort in the game.
In the second half, PAOK fully dominated proceedings. Their iron defence didn’t leave any hope to AEK, their midfielders won all duels and it was a matter of time before the black-and-whites would strike again. In the 81′ minute, they were vindicated. Substitute Henrique connected Leovac’s cross with a header and made it 2-1, which proved the final result.
After the Greek Cup award ceremony and the celebration on the pitch and in the dressing rooms, PAOK’s delegation travelled to Thessaloniki, but made a stop on the way. The Greek Cup came to Tempi, to the monument of the eaglets. They were also “present” in the final, they are always by the team’s side. Along with Nasos who also met an untimely death and to whom Klaus dedicated the trophy.
The team bus continued on their way and reached the White Tower deep in the night. Thousands of fans were waiting there to acclaim the Greek Cup winners. The players, Vladan Ivić, Ivan Savvidis and his son, Giorgos, climbed on the bus roof and celebrated the triumph with chants and flares until the early hours of the morning. The whole city stayed awake for their PAOK.
Celebratory events were the order on the following day as well. Ivan Savvidis invited the whole PAOK family at a night club of Thessaloniki to celebrate the success of the football section. Just before the party kicked off, the volley section offered the club another league title, with a huge victory in Olympiakos’s home.
Volleyball players joined in the feast that also celebrated a third trophy for PAOK: the women’s football team continued the tradition and won once again the league title. Joy, enthusiasm and sheer fun were granted, just like the promise that this celebratory day would be just the first of many to come…