A Greek season which has been anything but a classic will reach a thrilling climax on Sunday evening when the country's two most successful clubs meet in a match that could decide the league title.
If Panathinaikos FC beat Olympiakos Piraeus FC they will be Alpha Ethniki champions - doubling their three-point lead over second-placed Olympiakos with only one game to play. A draw at the home of their arch-rivals would also suit the Greens, leaving them needing just a point from their final fixture against Akratitos FC on 25 May to clinch a first championship in seven years.
Panathinaikos won at Akratitos in the 15th round of matches to go top of the table, and have stayed there ever since. The real watershed in their season, however, came when they appointed Sergio Markarian as coach in October following the resignation of Fernando Santos.
Panathinaikos had just lost their opening three games but have subsequently remained undefeated. Now they face the acid test of their ambition - a trip to the Gipedo Rizoupolis stadium where a hostile 11,000 crowd will be supervised by 5,000 police and, for the first time this term, closed circuit television cameras.
Second time lucky
Of greater concern to Markarian, though, will be the absence of injured midfield player Carlos Chaino, although Jan Michaelsen should recover from a knock to play. Former Paraguay coach Markarian actually left Panathinaikos last May after an initial 129-day reign only to return to build a side strong on defence but spearheaded by dangerous strikers Nikos Lyberopoulos and Emmanuel Olisadebe.
Everything is at stake for Olympiakos, too. The Reds are chasing a record seventh straight title - and a 32nd championship in all, against Panathinaikos's 21 league crowns. Unsurprisingly, they started out as favourites but, amid a succession of coaches, they have failed to hit the heights of previous campaigns.
Protasov in charge
Former Soviet Union international Oleg Protasov is the club's fourth trainer this term, following on from Takis Lemonis, Giannis Kollias and Srecko Katanec. With goalkeeper Dimitrios Eleftheropoulos, defender Christos Patsatzoglou and midfielder Zé Elias all out of action, he will rely on wingers Predrag Djordjevic and Stylianos Giannakopoulos for inspiration.
The weight of history, at least, is on Olympiakos's side. The Piraeus outfit have won this fixture 18 out of 43 times since the introduction of professional football in 1959 - and lost it on only ten occasions. Another victory would take them level on points with the Athens club, making a championship play-off a real possibility. But if Olympiakos win by two goals or more on Sunday, they will be in pole position by virtue of having the better head-to-head record following a 3-2 defeat at Panathinaikos in January.
Football the winner
So, for once this season, all eyes will be on the action unfolding out on the pitch rather than in the stands, tax offices or court rooms. After a season spent counting the cost of Greek football's ills, financial and otherwise, supporters can finally conjure with the kind of figures they are comfortable with.
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