A chaotic week with light at the end of the tunnel
AGONAsport’s Olympiacos, Theo Bouras, talks about this weekend’s draw against Xanthi and the big European night that awaits the Piraeus club on Thursday against AC Milan.
Pedro Martins’s frustration was evident on Sunday at the post-game press conference. He wasn’t happy with his team’s discipline, he was annoyed with the officiating in Xanthi, and he knows that the Greek Superleague title might be out of reach.
A Costly Tie
Olympiacos pressured Xanthi in the first half this past Sunday, but much like has been the story this entire season, they weren’t able to put the ball in the net. The Erythrolefki showed chemistry with constant ball movement and quick one-touch passes. Brazilian defensive midfielder, Guilherme, is in-form and his “silent” work in front of the two center-backs can’t be ignored. Guilherme always seems to be at the right place and his breakout passes have helped the Reds open up their attacking play. Last season, Kostas Fortounis was forced to always come back to the defensive third of the pitch to get the ball and to carry forward the attack. This year, Guilherme, and to a certain extent, Mady Camara have covered that aspect of the game. Mid-way into the month of December, Martins has finally found his core three midfielders.
In the 54th minute, a Jeffrey Sarpong cross looked like it would softly land in the hands of Olympiacos goalkeeper Jose Sa. Instead, Jagos Vukovic inadvertently headed the ball into his own net. Xanthi had an undeserving 1-0 lead and just like the game at Peristeri, the Thrylos would be required to play catch up. After a 7 minute delay due to the stadium lights shutting off, Olympiacos began to pressure and it was ultimately Vukovic who would tie the game up in the 76th minute. A Daniel Podence red card, a great showing late in the game by Jose Sa, and a classic officiating performance by referee Thanasis Tzilos ensured that the Reds wouldn’t be going home with more than a tie.
Thanasis Tzilos is a Larisa-born referee who actually played in the 3rd and 4th divisions in Greece while growing up. In his mid-teens, he played with former Greek International Vaggelis Moras. Between 2001 and 2009, Tzilos began refereeing lower divisions and received his license in, you guessed it, Xanthi. In 2014, when AEK was in the B Ethniki, Dimitris Melissanidis demanded that Tzilos and three other referees officiate a crucial game between AEK and Panachaiki. All week long, there had been concern by the Reds over how Tzilos would call the game on Sunday. Unfortunately for them, their concerns were validated. During a corner kick in the 42nd minute, both Xanthi center-backs Christos Lisgaras and Jorge Casado wrestled Vasilis Torosidis and Pape Abou Cisse to the ground. Tzilos, who was a mere 4 feet away, didn’t see a thing. In the second half, Xanthi defensive midfielder Khassa Camara had committed three to four hard fouls and only had one yellow card to show for it. Tzilos capped off his impressive night in the injury time; he called an offensive foul every time Olympiacos got near the Xanthi defensive zone. The last play of the game was a Fortounis cross that was flagged for offside when only Cisse’s hand was offside; a reminder that a hand is not considered offside because it can’t be used to score.
We can complain about officiating until we’re blue in the face but if this team had one striker who can put the ball in the net, this season would be a different story. Olympiacos now find themselves 8 points in back of PAOK and the thought of a 45th championship is beginning to fade.
The atmosphere at the Giorgios Karaiskakis Stadium will be off the charts on Thursday as the match against AC MIlan is already sold-out and Gate 7 along with the rest of the crowd will want to be the 12th man. Olympiacos have their work cut out for them; they need a 2-0 or 3-1 victory. The last time there was a “final” feel to a Matchday 6 European campaign was back in 2015 when Arsenal visited town. The Reds will hope for a different outcome this time as AC Milan visits Piraeus.
Pedro Martins hasn’t showed his cards but its known that he will be without winger Matias Nahuel and most probably without Lazaros Christodoulopoulos. If Olympiacos want to progress to the Round of 32, they’ll need a great game from Kostas Fortounis as his contributions will be key for Olympiacos’ attack. If Martins’ men can grab a 1-0 lead in the first half, they will be on the right track. The danger of pressing for two goals, of course, is that you neglect your defensive responsibilities. If the Reds concede, it will be almost impossible to score 3; at least from what we have seen this year from Olympiacos. Nonetheless, Thursday night will be another big European night in Piraeus for a team that over the past 15 years has had Greece’s biggest European success.
In a week where the Greek Championship is slipping away, Olympiacos fans got some other sad news. Club legend, Yaya Toure, will be leaving the team after an unsuccessful second spell there. Toure never looked ready and he might be contemplating retirement if he can’t find a team in January. Although the news might seem upsetting at first, this is actually a blessing for the team as all the money Toure was owed can go to a striker in the January transfer window. Eight points in back of PAOK is no easy feat and beating an Italian giant like AC Milan by two goals is no walk in the park either. Regardless of the uphill mountains, Olympiacos still have a reason to believe. In Greece, they are playing the best football but aren’t able to put the ball in the net. If they acquire a bona fide forward up top, they will make things interesting in the Superleague. Looking short-term to Thursday, they will rely on a raucous crowd to send Milan packing.