Greek Cup canceled after fans light flares, invade pitch

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's government has canceled the Greek Cup a day after a semifinal was stopped because of fan violence.

The sports ministry announced the decision on Thursday following the violence in the northern city of Thessaloniki, where fans of local club PAOK threw flares onto the pitch and clashed with riot police on the field.

The game was stopped in the 90th minute as Olympiakos led 2-1. 

PAOK, the home team, was denied a penalty late in the match, leading fans to light flares and eventually invade the pitch. Police used tear gas to disperse the fans.

Olympiakos and PAOK are bitter rivals and violence at their matches is nothing new. 

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“It’s part of the culture here. Soccer is so important to everybody. Everybody knows to talk about football. Everybody is watching soccer all day long and discuss in the coffee shops about soccer,” former PAOK and Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning told SI.com in 2014. “As a player, you always want to play for a club with huge fans. For the players, there’s a special pressure here, too, because you don’t want to fail for the people. If you’re losing, the people will let you know. They’ll be waiting for you at the airport, and they’ll want to have a discussion with you about what’s going wrong. You feel the people suffer with the club, in good and bad, and for this reason, there’s so much emotion.”

Olympiakos is the defending Greek Cup champion, having won the competition a record 27 times. The other semifinal featured AEK Athens and Atromitos, and the final was scheduled for April 23.

- SI Wire contributed to this report

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