Friday Frappé: The Highs, The Lows (and somewhere in between) of European Nights
In a brand-new feature on AGONAsport, Peter Katsiris takes a look at the week that was and the weekend that could be in Greek football…
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In yet another eventful week for Greek football, Greece’s representatives in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League enjoyed contrasting experiences on the continent.
AEK booked a return to the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in 12 years thanks to a 3-2 aggregate win over Vidi. While it wasn’t always pretty – the nervy ending at OAKA on Tuesday night can attest to that – the Enosi ultimately managed to hold on to their aggregate advantage.
AEK’s progress to the competition proper has been rewarded with an interesting draw that will see the club clash with German Champions Bayern Munich, Portuguese giants Benfica, and Dutch titans Ajax in a complicated Group E.
Although AEK’s path through the group stage will be tough to say the least, the Athenians will be encouraged by their surge to success in just a short period since competing in the third tier of Greek football.
While AEK celebrated the highs of a Champions League return, at the opposite end of the spectrum was PAOK’s 4-1 shellacking at the hands of Benfica and subsequent exit from the competition.
It’s a devastating blow for PAOK, who have made quite the habit of stumbling at the last hurdle. While their exit is reminiscent of their aggregate defeat to Schalke in the playoff round back in 2013, the club reached a whole new level of disappointment on the heels of uncharacteristic mistakes by the likes of Alexandros Paschalakis and Fernando Varela.
The sting of missing out on the Champions League likely won’t subside for quite some time, even if the club are set to embark on a Europa League journey; however, a deep run in the Europa League could help to satisfy the club’s growing hunger for European success.
Somewhere in Between
The result of Olympiacos’ trip to Turf Moor might have gone to plan, but for the majority of the 90 minutes the Piraeus giants were likely fretting over their aggregate lead in the tie.
A determined Burnley fought hard to claw back in the tie on home soil after last week’s 3-1 defeat at Karaiskaki, but a toothless attack ultimately let down the Lancashire club – much to the relief of Olympiacos.
That relief quickly turned into celebration at the final whistle as the Piraeus giants rejoiced in their progress to the group stage, but the celebrations were slightly unfulfilling for a few reasons.
Firstly, Olympiacos didn’t progress to the group stage in style despite the work done in Greece last week. A more clinical performance from Burnley could have quite possibly turned the tie on its head before halftime, putting into perspective the status of the club at this early crossroad in the season.
Add to the fact that Olympiacos usually enjoy a spot in the Champions League group stage and this qualification campaign should be a major reality check for the club’s brass – if last year’s third-place finish wasn’t already.