OFI take the Football League by storm
Three painful years without Super League football are finally over. OFI Crete sealed promotion from the second tier in style, scoring a remarkable 73 goals in 30 games to take the championship by storm.
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When departing the Super League in 2015 due to a financial meltdown, OFI had to start all over again from the bottom of the Greek footballing pile. Nevertheless, the Cretans refused to feel sorry for themselves, earning immediate promotion from the Gamma Ethniki in 2016 to qualify for the Football League. OFI came in fourth position last season, but the Heraklion club have been unstoppable this year, earning 74 points to currently occupy first place of the table.
AGONAsport looks at how OFI dominated the Football League during the 2017/2018 campaign.
Despite playing in the Football League, 23-year old Dimitris Manos is one of the hottest properties in Greek football right now. The forward has spearheaded OFI’s potent attack, finding the net on an incredible 24 occasions this season, boasting the title of the league’s top scorer. Manos isn’t selfish either, dishing out 10 assists which means he’s been involved in 34 of OFI’s 73 goals. A statistic which any player in the world would be proud of.
However, there’s a catch for OFI. Unfortunately for the Cretans, Olympiacos are on the verge of pinching Manos with the Thrylos looking to revamp their squad.
RETURN OF KOUTSIANIKOULIS
Gifted attacking midfielder Vasilis Koutsianikoulis struggled in recent seasons, failing to make an impression with Larissa in the Super League and only scoring one goal in 31 appearances. It all changed in September though, when Koutsianikoulis returned to OFI where he spent three solid years between 2012 and 2015.
Koutsianikoulis has reminded everyone why he was considered a promising talent in his younger days, hitting the target nine times and taking eight assists in the Football League to make it the most productive season of his career. At 29 years of age, his OFI contract does expire in June, but he’s expected to stay with with the Heraklion outfit in the Super League.
ROCK SOLID STREZOS
Alongside scoring 73 goals in the Football League, OFI have only conceded 13 at the other end, boasting the joint tightest defence with Aris. Young 22-year old goalkeeper Giorgos Strezos, who used to play for the under 19 Greek national team, has done a superb job for OFI, registering an astounding 19 clean sheets this season in 29 games. Before joining OFI in 2017, Strezos used to be on the books of PAOK, Olympiacos, Panachaiki and Panegialios.
Since taking over the role as OFI’s head coach in January 2017, Nikos Papadopoulos has slowly created a united group which is willing to fight for each other and throw their bodies on the line. Trouble arose in late 2017 when rumours of wages not being paid appeared in the media and several players asked to leave, but Papadopoulos kept OFI’s team spirit intact, managing to prevent the promotion charge from coming off the rails. Deserves more credit than he receives.
ABILITY TO KEEP IT TIGHT AT THE BACK
Generally, a team which loves to attack often gets caught at the back, but that can’t be said about OFI. As already mentioned, OFI barely concede in the Football League, something which is down to Stretzos’ superb goalkeeping and a reliable defence. OFI’s stand-out centre-back is Ioannis Potouridis, a 29-year old who returned to Greece in mid-2017 after a dreadful brief spell with Poland’s Miedź Legnica. In Crete, Potouridis has transformed into the leading Football League defender, competing in 27 matches and keeping the opponents at bay with ease.
At the atmospheric Theodoros Vardinogiannis Stadium, OFI always have their passionate supporters roaring the team on, no matter who the opponents are. OFI’s fans have been forced into being patient in the last few years, but they’ve played a large part in the team’s Football League success, turning out in their droves whether OFI are playing home or away. Giants such as AEK Athens, PAOK, Olympiacos and Panathinaikos will find it difficult visiting Heraklion’s hostile ground.