PAOK wins Greek league, still unbeaten with 1 round left

              PAOK fans cheer on their team during a Greek Super League soccer match against Levadiakos in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, on Sunday, April 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — PAOK won the Greek league for the first time in 34 years after beating Levadiakos 5-0 Sunday.

Yevhen Shakhv scored twice for the hosts, along with goals from Diego Biseswar, Fernando Varela and Karol Swiderski.

With one round left, PAOK is five points ahead of second-place Olympiakos.

PAOK also won the title in 1976 and 1985.

With PAOK already up 2-0 after Biseswar scored from the penalty spot in the eighth minute, the game turned into a long, raucous celebration.

“I was 18 (when PAOK last won the league) and now I’m 52. This says everything,” said PAOK fan Nikos Kouroutzidis. “Obviously, a great moment. I hope I don’t get to 90 before we win the next championship.”

A huge celebration at the city’s waterfront was underway with tens of thousands of fans at the city’s iconic monument, the White Tower, waiting to greet PAOK’s players as their bus slowly inched forward.

“People have been patient … the people have been yearning for one all these years,” said former PAOK star Giorgos Koudas. The 72-year-old attacking midfielder, who spent all of his senior career at PAOK from 1963 to 1984, playing 602 games, was the captain of the team that won the title in 1976.

Larissa, the 1988 champion, is the only team other than PAOK to break the stranglehold of the Athens “big three” — AEK, Olympiakos and Panathinaikos — ever since a national league started in 1959.

“PAOK represents the struggle of the downtrodden against the powerful,” said Father Christos Mitsios, a 60-year-old priest, who is a regular at PAOK’s games. “The hope that at some day we would break the establishment kept us strong all these years,” he said, while struggling to be heard above the bass drum beaten by “Ze,” another Toumba Stadium fixture.

For Koudas, things have been improving lately, and he prefers to focus on the growing gap at club level between Greek soccer and most other European countries.

“We get rid of coaches too easily, we don’t bring in quality players. We need investment, and a good organization,” he said.

PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis, a Greek-Russian tycoon, provided investment but was also partly responsible for PAOK missing out on a very close race last season after storming the field near the end of a game with eventual champion AEK. A gun in a holster was clearly visible underneath his coat.