The first “repeat” in the club’s historyWhen you write history, essentially you make redundant that which had stood before that moment. This is exactly what PAOK did. The club had never won a cup final at the Olympic Stadium. Neither had it ever won two consecutive cups. Not until 2018. On May 12, PAOK defeated AEK 2-0 and ended a season marked by off-pitch court decisions, anti-football behaviors in the ideal way, confirming also that PAOK was the force of the future in Greek football.
In the sixth year under the ownership of Ivan Savvidis, PAOK claimed its second trophy, a just reward for the club’s performance. The Double-headed Eagle retained the spine of its squad from the previous season, and was strengthened by the arrival of some important players. Adelino Vieirinha’s return to the club was one of the most influential signings which helped the club to get to the top.
The difficult start
Despite lofty ambitions and expectations, the season did not get off to a great start for the Double-headed Eagle. Aleksandar Stanojević parted company with the club in August before even completing two months at the club, and Razvan Lucescu took the reins to put PAOK on the track.
In the beginning, he asked the club for time. But the fixture list did not allow for that. Swedish outfit Ostersunds FK put a premature end to PAOK’s European ambitions. That elimination from the UEFA Europa League was the first slap in the face of the season.
The start to the Super League was also not a good one based on results. PAOK played good football, but found it difficult to score goals, especially in away matches. At the Toumba, despite the absence supporters due to punishments for crowd trouble from the previous season at the cup final in Volos, PAOK looked a different team and always had the first and final word.
Lucescu was stubborn and persistent in his approach, he believed in his players, and from December, PAOK never looked back. The team played by far the best brand of football in Greece. The team’s superiority in the Super League was transformed into 70 points with one game less. However, the club’s opponents opted to face PAOK in court instead of on the pitch, and they had had more chance of victory that way.
The road to the Greek Cup Final
While the group games may have taken place during a lean spell for PAOK when the team was still trying to find itself, Levadiakos, Apollonas Pontou and Aeginiakos did not create any problems for the Double-headed Eagle. Qualification was secured from the second match when Robert Mak scored in a 1-0 win over Kalamaria.
In the knockout stages, PAOK’s first opponent hailed from the Football League. AO Trikala were unlucky as they met PAOK during the time when the club was starting to discover its form. PAOK won the first match in Trikala 5-1 to end the tie as a contest, and followed that up with another win at home, courtesy of a late penalty converted by Aleksandar Prijovic.
Next up was the season’s surprise package, Atromitos. Under the guidance of coach Damir Canadi, the Athens club impressed all and sundry with their style of play and generally made life difficult for the bigger clubs – except PAOK. The Double-headed Eagle won the match at the Toumba 2-0, thanks to goals by Dimitris Pelkas and Yevgen Shakhov. In Peristeri, Shahkov proved that the cup is his favorite competition by putting PAOK in the lead. Atromitos equalized at the beginning of the second half and there were hopes of a comeback from the home side, but Jose Canas and Efthymios Koulouris scored to finish off the hosts.
In the semi-finals, Panionios stood in PAOK’s way. The Nea Smyrni club was once again one of the league’s more consistent sides that season, battling for a place in the top five. The first leg took place in Nea Smyrni, only a few days after the unsavory events at the Toumba against Olympiacos. Panionios made the mistake of going out onto the pitch and trying to play their normal game and Double-headed Eagle punished them.
Mauricio, Prijovic and Diego Biseswar all found a way past Matic Kotnik, with Korbos reducing the deficit to 3-1. PAOK turned the replay into a formality, winning by the same scoreline.
Koulouris opened the scoring, Giorgos Masouras equalized to make it 1-1, but Pelkas and Prijovic netted to lead the Double-headed Eagle to victory and send the club to the final.
A party in AEK’s backyard
With difficulty and a healthy dose of luck, AEK overcame the obstacle of Larissa in their semi-final thanks to a goal from Lazaros Christodoulopoulos to set up the repeat of the Volos cup final the season before. The difference was that this time the “Enosi” would be playing at their home ground, thus having a significant advantage.
All the pre-match hype was about PAOK having the chance to settle some scores after what had happened between the two clubs during the season. However, this is not how Razvan Lucescu saw things. “We have nothing to prove. All of Greece knows that we were the best team on the pitch all season. Tomorrow we will play for a trophy. We want to win it for ourselves, for the president, for our families, and for our fans,” he stated in the pre-match press conference.
The atmosphere in the squad was excellent, with the players determined to win the trophy, something that was evident right from the kick-off.
After a tentative opening 15 minutes, PAOK took over and completely dominated the game until the final whistle. Biseswar, Campos and Prijovic all missed great opportunities to open the scoring, with the Serbian also having a penalty saved by AEK goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas.
In the second half, the passion and desire of the PAOK players proved to be too much for AEK to handle. AEK were pushed back into their own half and spend the second 45 minutes on the ropes, with PAOK peppering Barkas’ goal with shots. Barkas’ one-man resistance was finally broken by Vieirinha.
The Portuguese put PAOK ahead with a superb free-kick, paving the way for the Black and Whites to go on and win the game. The last minutes were full of intensity and passion. Mauricio and Vranjes were both sent off by the Spanish referee, Borbalan, while Sergio Araujo wasted AEK’s only clear chance in the 88th minute. Pelkas swept the ball into an empty net in the closing minutes following an assist from Prijovic, which rounded off a deserved 2-0 win for PAOK, signaling the start of jubilant celebrations.
Both players and coaching staff ran onto the pitch to embrace each other to signal the start of jubilant celebrations as PAOK reveled in winning the cup in AEK’s backyard
Presenting the trophy to Ivan Savvidis
While the PAOK family was united at the OAKA and savored the great victory over AEK, the “father” of the family was missing.
Ivan Savvidis was not allowed to enter the stadium due to sanctions imposed on him, and he instead watched the match on TV. The players of course did not forget him, and they celebrated by wearing masks showing his face. And at the end of the match he went straight to the Macedonia airport to wait for the team to arrive and present him with his “gift”.
Adelino Vieirinha was the first to disembark from the bus and he handed the trophy over to the president, who excitedly thanked the players, and he was promptly lifted into the air.
Sleepless in Thessaloniki
PAOK supporters turned out in force at the Macedonia airport to give the team an incredible welcome on arrival shortly after 02:00. Despite the lengthy delays, the decision was made and the team bus began its snail-like journey towards the White Tower. It was extremely difficult for the bus to leave the airport, since the fans had flooded into the area in their thousands to worship their heroes, the coaching team, and the Savvidis family.
After a long journey the Greek Cup trophy finally reached the White Tower where thousands more fans were waiting to celebrate their team’s success with all of their hearts and souls. The party continued into the next day, with the Double-headed Eagle family gathering at a nightclub, with what can only be described as a very black and white party, along with the Under-20 players and their coach Pablo Garcia, who also guided the team to the Super League title.
PAOK’s president summed it all up: «Tomorrow is ours. The goal is for PAOK to be among the top 20 clubs in Europe, and we will not stop until we achieve that goal.”