Empty OAKA creates unwanted image
The Greek public has officially fallen out of love with the national team. Given recent results, you can hardly blame them, but the ghostly empty OAKA stands in the UEFA Nations League was thoroughly miserable to see.
Boasting a large capacity of 70,000, the Olympic Stadium in Athens was never going to be packed to the rafters for third tier matches in the newly created UEFA Nations League, but such dismal, shockingly low attendances were an embarrassing statement. Let’s use Sunday’s match against relegated Estonia for an example. Yes, Greece had already lost all hope of winning Group 2, but second spot and national pride were still at stake. However, no fans turned up. The official statistics show that 5,719 people were at the match, but it felt as though the teams were playing in front of a completely empty arena, with barely any fans visible. To their credit, Estonian supporters did make the trip to Greece to cheer on their team, and they were the ones celebrating after Vasilis Lampropoulos’ unfortunate own goal gifted them a shock win.
According to various sources, players of the Ethniki Omada weren’t ever keen on playing at the OAKA, and you can see why. Playing at home is supposed to be an advantage, but when no one sticks by your side, it suddenly turns into a major disadvantage. Greece only moved from the Karaiskakis Stadium this year, but after a terrible 12 months at the OAKA, the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) has taken the predictable decision to leave the Greek capital once and for all. It’s now expected that the national team will call the Pankritio Stadium in Heraklion home for the upcoming UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying campaign. We can only hope that the Cretan public will show at least a degree of loyalty to the Ethniki, regardless of recent failures.
The EPO’s call to depart the Karaiskakis Stadium in favour of the OAKA really was puzzling. EPO president Evangelos Grammenos seemed more worried about getting rid of any association with Olympiacos rather than caring for the national team’s fortunes, and when you make a decision for the wrong reasons, the outcome is very rarely positive. Is it a good thing to play at the Pankritio Stadium next year? Just like the OAKA, it does have a running track around the field which consequently hinders the atmosphere, but more passion should be on show. It certainly can’t get any worse.
In addition, punishments could be on their way from UEFA. During the game with the Estonians, a flag displaying the Black Sun symbol (associated with Neo-Nazism) was seen among a small group of fans who were also witnessed burning the Turkish flag. It remains to be seen whether UEFA decide to penalise the EPO for the incident.