Portuguese, AEK set for annual Cup tilt

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:06 PM ET

It's becoming a yearly ritual neither team is particularly happy about.

London AEK Olympic and London Portuguese will meet in the second round of the men's Ontario Cup soccer competition tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Portuguese Club.

"It's a shame one of us always has to get knocked out early," AEK manager Tom Kouzounas said. "It would be nice to be able to knock out some of the teams from the Toronto area first and meet later in the competition, but that's the way it is."

Last year, Portuguese defeated AEK in Cup competition. The two teams are also big-time rivals in the Western Ontario Soccer League. Portuguese has won the league nine of the last 11 years, but lost last year to London Benfica. The only other loss in those 11 years came to AEK. Once again, AEK and Portuguese are in the hunt for the WOSL Premier Division title, along with London Croatia and Benfica.

In 2002, Portuguese won the Ontario Cup.

Both Kouzounas and Portuguese manager Carlos Miranda are singing from the same songbook. They respect the other team's ability, but that does nothing to lessen the intensity of the games.

"They are always tough games, but it's a good rivalry," Miranda said. "I think both teams have changed a little bit this year. We've both gotten a little bit younger."

AEK has gotten a lot younger. It has a number of graduating London Dynamite players on its roster, as well as player-coach Martin Painter, who also coached the Dynamite team.

AEK has 12 players on its roster under the age of 22, including two 17-year-old starters in Ryan Avola and Todd Rutledge, along with 18-year-old Harris Cekic.

"He's come out of the North London system and I think he's good enough to play at any level. He's tremendous," Kouzounas said.

Miranda said the teams play different games.

"The game is always a tossup," he said. "We have two different styles. We're a little more experienced and stronger physically, but they are younger and quicker."

The Portuguese are facing problems from a source they never expected -- the World Cup.

"I'm a little nervous because we have some players who are away at the World Cup," Miranda said. "Two of our key players, Mike Delgado and Paul Ferreira, will still be at the World Cup and two others (came back yesterday)."

How effective the players coming back will be is open to debate.

"We have to play with who's here, but we have a lot of experience and that should help us a lot. It's going to be a good game," Miranda said.


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