After a year of many blemishes for the Greek Super League, the 2015/16 season has finally come to an end. And for a record 43rd time, Olympiacos has once again been crowned champion. Olympiacos finished with 85 table points, which is 28 more than 2nd place, AEK, who finished with 57. Olympiakos also set records for consecutive wins to open the season with 17, consecutive home wins with 25 and fewest conceded points (one loss and one draw in 30 matches). One would have thought (or hoped) that the return of AEK from their banishment to division 2 would bolster the quality of competition; but that didn’t happen. The fact of the matter is, not enough clubs are investing heavily in their teams – and until that happens, I’m sorry to say that I think the Greek Super League will be seen as nothing more than a B-League to the rest of the world.
The top three goal scorers for the 2015/16 season were Olympiacos’ Fortounis (18), Panathinaikos’ Berg (15) and Asteras’ Giannou (13). For Greek fans, it was exciting to see two younger Greek nationals scoring lots of goals. The biggest problem for the Greek National team, now and always, has been putting the ball in the net, and the hope was that these two players could bring their offensive prowess to the national level. While Fortounis has been playing great for the National Team, Giannou recently announced that he will be opting to play for the Australian National Team during World Cup 2016 qualifications. Giannou was born in Greece, but moved to Australia at a very young age which, under current FIFA rules, makes him eligible to play for both countries. He also left his Greek club, Asteras, to play for Chinese side, Guangzhou R&F, next season.
The level of competition in the league has been declining drastically in recent years, so much that the winner of the Super League play offs isn’t even being awarded a guaranteed spot in UEFA Champion’s League – but rather, an opportunity to try and qualify for the tournament in the qualifier rounds. The 5 teams that will be competing for that spot in the qualifier round are Olympiacos, AEK, Panathinaikos, PAOK and Panionios. Due to financial woes, however, Panionios may not be able to participate in the european tournament which means the 6th place team could possibly sneak in. Yes, you read that right, the 6th place team has a chance, as small as it may be, to participate on some level in Champion’s League. Am I the only one that thinks something is wrong here?
Lack of competition hasn’t been the only woe for the league this year. Match cancellations due to fan violence seemed like a common trend this year, so much that Deputy Sports Minister Stavros Kontonis cancelled the final few matches of the Greek Cup – a tournament that all Greek clubs, from all division, compete in throughout the year. FIFA and UEFA intervened and threatened to suspend all Greek Clubs and the National Team from all international and European competition if the Cup didn’t resume, which is common whenever a country’s government intervenes with soccer affairs. After pressure from all sides, Kontonis reinstated the tournament and the 2nd leg of the semi-final round will resume this week, with the final being played on May 7. AEK (leading 1-0) plays Atromitos while the league champions, Olympiacos, who lead 3-0, are playing PAOK.
The first match between Olympiacos and PAOK is was sparked the Cup’s cancellation. Olympiacos was leading 2-1 in the 89th minute when the match was abandoned. That’s when PAOK fans invaded the field and began hurling smoke bombs and flares from the stands. As punishment, Olympiacos was awarded a 3-0 win in that match and PAOK was fined, docked points from the final Super League standings and will be forced to play 3 games next year with no fans in attendance.
So where does the league go from here? No one knows for sure. But I can tell you this, as a fan of Greek soccer, I’m not too optimistic in the way things are heading. Even in international competition, the Greek National Team failed to qualify for the Euro Cup this year in a group that most people thought they could easily advance out of. Qualification matches for World Cup 2018 begin in September and it’s my hope they can get things in order by then and rise to the occasion.