PREVIEW: ARIS SALONIKI FC - PAOK FC
The much-awaited Thessaloniki derby will get underway on Sunday evening, shaping the outcome of the final stretch of the season.
The American duo of Eddie Johnson and Freddy Adu will hope to get another chance to impress as likely substitutes.
With five games remaining in the Super League season Aris FC's Europa League aspirations would get a definite boost with a win. Hector Cuper's men sit in fifth with 39 and Kavala FC closely on their tail two points adrift. A fifth place finish would ensure their participation in a four-team playoff for a ticket to Europa League.
The surging Black and Whites of PAOK find themselves in fine form since the winter break. Not only are they cruising on a four-game winning streak, but they also haven't lost since last November, a streak that included their 4-1 thrashing of Aris in their last encounter. Portuguese skipper Fernando Santos saw his squad shut out Panthrakikos last Saturday thanks to tallies from defenders Stelios Malezas and Lino, as well as French midfielder Olivier Sorlin.
For Aris, Nacho Garcia and Javier Cámpora have recovered from slight shoulder and knee injuries, respectively, picked up last weekend. Athanassios Prittas also has overcome a nagging calf, and Michalis Sifakis will likely return in between the posts following his recovery. The only absentee will be Argentine midfielder Dario Fernandez, who makes a return to the injury list.
PAOK coach Santos will see midfielder Vieirinha return from suspension, and forward Lucio Filomeno and defender Mirko Savini still on the road to recovery.
The PAOK-Aris derby is one of the most intense in Greek soccer, and a rowdy atmosphere with a soldout crowd of 22,800 can be expected at Kleanthis Vikelidis stadium. Since the first derby in 1959, Aris has recorded 17 wins, 19 draws and 12 losses at home, but PAOK has an overall advantage of 40 wins to Aris' 25, in addition to 32 split decisions.