Backed by Russian billionaire Ivan Savvidis, PAOK Thessaloniki celebrates first title in a generation

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PAOK celebrate winning the first league title won by a club outside Athens in 31 years. Success-starved PAOK last won the title in 1985 while Larissa was the last club outside Athens to win the league back in 1988. (AFP)
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PAOK Thessaloniki footballers and team owner Ivan Savvidis travel on a bus through a crowd of their supporters next to The White Tower in Thessaloniki, as they celebrate winning the Greek Super League title. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2019

Backed by Russian billionaire Ivan Savvidis, PAOK Thessaloniki celebrates first title in a generation

  • PAOK Thessaloniki became the first team outside Athens to win the Greek league title in more than three decades
  • Savvidis’ dream of building a major club was almost toppled last season in a game against AEK, during which he stormed onto the field to challenge the referee’s decision with a handgun holstered in his belt

THESSALONIKI, Greece: Tens of thousands of fans in Greece’s second-largest city partied through the night and into Monday after PAOK Thessaloniki became the first team outside Athens to win the Greek league title in more than three decades.
In wild scenes of celebration, fans packed along the city’s seafront — hundreds holding red flares — to catch a glimpse of the winning team on a double-decker bus after its 5-0 win over Levadiakos sealed its undefeated run to victory.
At the heart of the party was Ivan Savvidis, a stout Russian billionaire who transformed the club and bet heavily on the northern Greek economy. Supporters chanted his name as he walked between two rows of flame machines during a celebration ceremony.
The 60-year-old businessman, whose family is partly of Greek ancestry, took over PAOK in 2012 and rescued the club from financial ruin, settling debts and building a 63 million euro ($70 million) roster equal in value to that of the country’s largest club, Olympiakos.
Savvidis, who made his fortune in agriculture in southern Russia, tapped into PAOK’s underdog status and broader resentment throughout the city, which believes it has been overlooked by decision-makers in Athens.
“We have laid the foundations for what I hope is the start of some great achievements,” he said late Sunday, speaking through an interpreter. “Let those in Athens think with a clear head: What they did to us made us stronger by the day.”
Over the past decade, Savvidis has invested in northern Greek businesses, some on the brink of failure, as well as television stations and newspapers that are generally supportive of the country’s left-wing government. Despite his popularity in Thessaloniki, he is seldom far from controversy.
Greece’s western allies have noted his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he served as a member of Russia’s parliament before setting up his Greek businesses. And Savvidis’ dream of building a major club was almost toppled last season in a league game against AEK Athens, during which he stormed onto the field to challenge the referee’s decision with a handgun holstered in his belt.
He remains banned from attending PAOK’s games, but fans late Sunday were forgiving, chanting under the White Tower, the city’s main monument, “Ivan, get your gun.”
PAOK last won titles a generation ago, in 1976 and 1985, and Larissa was the last team outside Athens to claim the championship trophy when it did so in 1988. Olympiakos dominated subsequent decades, winning 19 out of 21 titles before AEK’s victory last season. (Another Athens club, Panathinaikos, won the other two.)
The stranglehold fueled bitterness among PAOK’s owners and fans. Controversy surrounding big-game refereeing decisions, as well as match-fixing prosecutions in the top-flight league, prompted league organizers to use foreign referees at all key matches this season.
PAOK was founded in the mid-1920s by Greek refugees who fled to the city after a catastrophic war with Turkey and owes much of its loyal following to that history.
Not only veterans and fans feel that burden.
Vieirinha, PAOK’s Portuguese captain, wasn’t born the last time the team won the league. On Sunday, in tears, he received a standing ovation from 25,000 fans at Toumba Stadium, playing the last five minutes despite an injury.
“A great team like PAOK does not deserve to wait 34 years to win a championship,” Vieirinha said. “What we lived through this past year is a dream for every PAOK fan. I am one of them. I come from them. For me, PAOK means everything.”


Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1

Updated 24 June 2021

Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1

  • The Hawks handed the Bucks their first home loss of the postseason
  • Game 2 is on Friday night in MilwaukeeAtlanta Hawks guard Trae Young puts up a shot against Jrue Holiday and Bobby Portis of the Milwaukee Bucks guard on June 23, 2021. (Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports)

MILWAUKEE: Trae Young scored 48 points, Clint Capela converted a go-ahead putback with 29.8 seconds left and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 116-113 on Wednesday night to open the Eastern Conference finals.
The Hawks improved to 6-2 in road playoff games this year and handed the Bucks their first home loss of the postseason.
“I felt we’ve built ourselves to be able to play on the road,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “I’ve told them that. They’re built for this.”
Game 2 is Friday night in Milwaukee.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists for the Bucks. Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists.
Young was two points off his career high.
“We keep fighting,” Young said. “It’s been fun playing with this group. We just keep fighting to the end, no matter what the score is. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep fighting.”
John Collins added 23 points and 15 rebounds for the Hawks. Capela had 12 points and 19 rebounds.
Khris Middleton missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Although Middleton scored 15 points, he shot 6 of 23 and missed all nine of his 3-point attempts.
“Offensively, it didn’t seem like we moved very well,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Antetokounmpo scored the first six points in a 9-0 run that turned a 98-96 deficit into a 105-98 advantage with 4:18 left. Holiday capped that spurt by sinking a 3-pointer after Antetokounmpo got the rebound on his own missed free throw.
But the Hawks scored the next five points, and the game went back and forth from there.
Middleton missed a pull-up jumper with about 43 seconds left with Milwaukee up 111-110. Young missed a driving layup attempt, but Capela grabbed his 19th rebound and scored to put the Hawks ahead for good.
After Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton shot an air-ball on a 3-pointer, Young made two free throws with 17.3 seconds remaining. Antetokounmpo made a pair of free throws with 5.3 seconds left, but Young brought the lead back to three and closed the scoring by sinking two free throws of his own with 4.6 seconds remaining.

TIP-INS
Hawks: Bogdan Bogdanovic started but clearly was at less than full strength as he deals with a sore knee. He scored four points and shot 1 of 6. ... Cam Reddish was available to play for the first time in four months but didn’t play. Reddish hadn’t played since Feb. 21 due to a right Achilles injury. Hawks coach Nate McMillan had said before the game the Hawks would cautious with Reddish by keeping him behind Tony Snell and Solomon Hill in the rotation. “We haven’t had the opportunity for him to get in any five-on-five since he’s been off,” McMillan said. “He’s been playing the last week or so some two-on-two, three-on-three.” … Atlanta is the third team since 1984 to make the conference finals despite having a losing record at the All-Star break. The others were the 2012 Boston Celtics and the 1984 Phoenix Suns. The Hawks were 16-20 at the break.
Bucks: Bobby Portis came off the bench with 4 1/2minutes left in the first quarter and ended up with 11 points and eight rebounds. Portis hadn’t played a single minute in the last three games of the Nets series. ... Milwaukee fell to 11-3 in playoff games at Fiserv Forum. … This is the fifth time the Bucks and Hawks have faced off in the playoffs and their first postseason matchup since the Hawks won 4-3 in a 2010 opening-round series. They’ve split the four previous matchups.
 


Police officer guilty of manslaughter in soccer star’s death

Updated 23 June 2021

Police officer guilty of manslaughter in soccer star’s death

  • A jury unanimously found Constable Benjamin Monk guilty of manslaughter but cleared him of murder
  • Monk used a stun gun for 33 seconds against Former Aston Villa star Dalian Atkinson six times longer than standard

LONDON: A British police officer was convicted Wednesday of manslaughter in the death of Dalian Atkinson, a former professional soccer player who died after being Tasered and kicked in the head.
A jury unanimously found Constable Benjamin Monk guilty of manslaughter but cleared him of murder.
Former Aston Villa star Atkinson, 48, died in August 2016 after police were called to his father’s home in Telford, central England. He went into cardiac arrest on the way to a hospital and died around an hour after officers used a Taser to subdue him. Prosecutors said Monk used a stun gun for 33 seconds against Atkinson — more than six times longer than was standard.
Monk, 43, said he had been afraid for his life after Atkinson, who appeared to be having a mental health crisis, made threats and smashed a glass door pane. He claimed he acted in lawful self-defense, first using a stun gun eight times and then aiming kicks at the athlete’s shoulder. His boot hit Atkinson at least twice in the head.
The officer was convicted after a six-week trial. Atkinson’s family members said in a statement they were “hugely relieved that the whole country now knows the truth about how Dalian died.”
Jurors at Birmingham Crown Court are still deliberating on an assault charge against another police officer who was Monk’s girlfriend at the time.
It is extremely rare for police in Britain to be convicted of manslaughter or murder over deaths in custody or during contact with the public. According to the charity Inquest, the last such conviction was in 1986.
Atkinson was a forward who played in England’s top division for Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa. During a Villa game against Wimbledon in October 1992 he scored one of the Premier League’s most famous goals when he ran from inside his own half, evaded a number of challenges, then chipped the ball over the goalkeeper.
He scored 20 Premier League goals for Villa and also netted in the 1994 League Cup final in the team’s 3-1 win over Manchester United. Atkinson also had spells with Real Sociedad in Spain, Fenerbahce in Turkey and in South Korea.

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Suns sink Clippers with last-gasp Ayton dunk in see-saw thriller, take 2-0 lead in NBA West finals

Updated 24 June 2021

Suns sink Clippers with last-gasp Ayton dunk in see-saw thriller, take 2-0 lead in NBA West finals

  • Devin Booker shook off a nose injury, returning to the game o power the Suns to victory with another superb offensive performance
  • The Clippers were playing their fourth consecutive playoff game without forward Kawhi Leonard, who is out with a sprained right knee

LOS ANGELES: Deandre Ayton made the go-ahead catch and dunk with one second left and a bloodied Devin Booker scored 20 points as the Phoenix Suns shocked the Los Angeles Clippers 104-103 in game two of their NBA playoff series.
Booker shook off a cruel clash of heads that left him bloodied and bruised, returning to the game as the Suns took down the Clippers in a see-saw fourth quarter to win their ninth straight and seize a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
"It was like a Muhammad Ali fight with haymaker after haymaker going back and forth," said Suns guard Cameron Payne, who finished with a career-high 29 points.
Ayton scored the eventual game winner in a thrilling finish as the Suns perfectly executed on their final possession of the game.
The play started with an inbounds pass by Suns forward Jae Crowder who lobbed it directly to the front of the basket where a leaping Ayton was waiting. He caught and then dunked the ball in one motion to give to give the Suns a 104-103 lead with 0.7 seconds left.
Clippers Paul George then put up a desperation shot at the buzzer but it hit the front of the rim and bounced harmlessly away to end the game in front of the crowd of 16,600 at Phoenix Suns Arena.
"Jae made a great pass," said Ayton, who finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds. "I am glad it counted. We just wanted to finish the game strong."
If game one in the series was the feel-out game then game two was the knockout punch. Booker had his nose bloodied late in the third quarter when he accidentally butted heads with Clippers' Pat Beverley.
The 24-year-old Booker needed two stitches and may have broken his nose. But rather than let it end his night, Booker returned to power his team to victory with another superb offensive performance.
"They put a lot of pressure on D-Brook. I hope his nose isn't broken," said Ayton.
Payne raised the bar to make 12 of 24 shots from the field and had nine assists with no turnovers. He was starting at guard for the second straight game with Chris Paul out after reportedly testing positive for Covid-19.
George scored 26 points and Reggie Jackson added 19 for the Clippers, who also fell behind 2-0 in their previous series against the top seeded Utah Jazz before rallying to win.
George missed a pair of free throws with 8.2 seconds left that could have put the game out of reach for the Clippers.
"We had a chance to win the game," said Clippers head coach Ty Lue. "We played, we didn't win this game, it is unfortunate. It happens.
"We got to go home and take care of business."
Game three is Thursday in Los Angeles.
The Clippers were playing their fourth consecutive playoff game without forward Kawhi Leonard, who is out with a sprained right knee.


WHO concerned about eased virus curbs around Euro 2020

Updated 22 June 2021

WHO concerned about eased virus curbs around Euro 2020

  • WHO is concerned about easing of restrictions in some of the host countries, said a WHO official
  • Britain Tuesday said over 60,000 spectators will be allowed at London’s Wembley stadium semi-finals and final

COPENHAGEN: The World Health Organization on Tuesday said it was concerned about the easing of Covid-19 restrictions by nations hosting Euro 2020 matches, noting that some were already seeing rising cases.
“WHO is concerned about easing of restrictions in some of the host countries,” Robb Butler, an executive director at WHO’s Regional Office for Europe, said in an emailed statement to AFP.
“A few of the stadiums hosting the tournament are now increasing the number of spectators allowed,” Butler said.
The UN health agency did not single out any cities, but Britain announced Tuesday that more than 60,000 spectators will be allowed at the Wembley stadium in London for the semifinals and final of the tournament.
Originally, it was intended to limit the crowd to 40,000.
UEFA has also been in talks with the UK government to ease virus-related travel restrictions to allow up to 2,500 VIPs to attend the final on July 11.
In some “host cities, Covid-19 cases are already on the rise in the area where matches will be held,” said Butler.
In areas where infection rates are on the rise, WHO Europe called on the cities concerned to act quickly.
“Learning from experience, we must act fast on signals showing increasing cases.
“Expanding testing and sequencing; stepping up contact tracing; and building very high vaccine uptake fast among those vulnerable and most at risk,” he added.
In Denmark, 29 cases have been detected in connection with the Euro games taking place in Copenhagen.
The reported infections involved people who were either already ill during the match or were infected during the game, Anette Lykke Petri, a health authority official, told a Tuesday press briefing.
“In theory, there could be more people infected,” she added.
In Denmark, the permitted audience has also recently been increased to 25,000, from 16,000. The higher number was first applied for last Thursday’s game between Denmark and Belgium.
In Budapest, games at the Puskas Arena, which has a capacity of 68,000, have been played to a full stadium.
UEFA had also stripped two cities, Dublin and Bilbao, from hosting games in the tournament because the capacities allowed were too low.
Among the host cities, Russia’s St. Petersburg in particular has reported an increase in the number of cases in recent days.
Meanwhile the trend has been downward in Spain’s Seville and in Rome, Italian authorities assure that no cases of Covid-19 linked to the competition have been detected.
While the situation across Europe has improved over the past two months, the WHO has nevertheless urged continued caution.
“Although we have come far, we have not come far enough,” Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, warned in early June.
Vaccine uptake was still too low to protect the region from a resurgence, he said.


Younis Khan quits as Pakistan batting coach days before tour 

Updated 22 June 2021

Younis Khan quits as Pakistan batting coach days before tour 

  • Khan was appointed last November on a two-year contract until the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia in 2022 
  • Pakistan squad is set to leave Friday for three one-day internationals and three T20s in England 

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan captain Younis Khan has quit as the national team’s batting coach.
The Pakistan Cricket Board declined to comment on the reasons Khan quit just days before the national team is due to leave for England to play a limited-overs series.
Khan was appointed last November on a two-year contract until the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia in 2022.
“It is sad to lose an expert of the stature and experience of Younis Khan,” PCB chief executive Wasim Khan said in a statement Tuesday. “Following a series of discussions, we both have reluctantly but mutually and amicably agreed that it was time to move in different directions.”
The PCB official said that the cricket board looked forward to Khan “sharing his vast knowledge with the emerging cricketers.”
The Pakistan squad is set to leave Friday for three one-day internationals and three T20s in England. Pakistan will later tour West Indies for five T20s and two test matches.
The PCB said the team will be without batting coach in England and a decision would be made on a replacement for the tour of the West Indies.