From Hell, to Heaven, to Kiev
AGONAsport’s Olympiacos contributor, Theo Bouras, talks about about Olympiacos’ come from behind win against AEK and the battle that awaits in the Ukrainian capital.
Had things gone a little differently, I would have put together a “How to destroy your season in ten days” piece. The mood at Rendi training grounds was as heavy as we had seen it since last season. A 3-1 loss to PAOK had taken Olympiacos out of the Greek Championship race and fans were looking forward to leg one of the Europa League round of 32 match-up against Dynamo Kyiv. The Erythrolefki led twice against the Ukrainians but ultimately, conceded a late goal which ended the game 2-2; a score which leaves the Legend with their work cut out for them.
Pedro Martins and his team are now called upon to go to a sold-out Olympic Stadium in Ukraine and win (or tie 3-3). Martins was the brunt of plenty of criticism after last Thursday’s game at the Georgios Karaiskakis as his second half tactics seemed to give Dynamo Kyiv life and ultimately, the change to score their second goal.
The Ukrainian Premier League is taking its annual winter break and Dynamo Kyiv did not look like a threat for most of the game in Piraeus. They scored two similar goals off defensive breakdowns and got the result they wanted. The Olympiacos midfielders have a good share of the responsibility for both Ukrainian goals as both strikes were uncontested near the penalty spot.
With the disappointment of the PAOK and Dynamo Kyiv games, the Reds wanted to give their fans a good showing against rivals AEK Athens and, in the process, distance themselves from the Kitrinomavroi in the battle for second place, which leads to a place in the Champions League qualifying rounds. The start could not have been more catastrophic. A combination of errors from Jagos Vukovic and Jose Sa saw AEK take the 0-1 lead and panic ensued. The fans, noticeably frustrated, let the players know their displeasure. What followed was a first half that we can now look back on and laugh. Simple 10-foot passes were not connecting, own-goals were almost scored because of a lack of communication, and every time Olympiacos got into AEK’s penalty box, they rushed a pass or a shot. The team was noticeably shaken up and they were greeted with a chorus of loud boos as they left the pitch to go into the half-time.
During the halftime break, I wondered if this showing would continue. If it did, and Olympiacos lost this game, you would have to consider Martins as good as gone. Club owner, Evangelos Marinakis, consoled the team after the game at the Toumba stadium, but was much harsher in the locker room after the tie against Dynamo Kyiv. The shipping tycoon demanded a win against AEK and qualification in Ukraine.
Martins was not to blame for the plethora of errors made by his players. He was responsible, however, for putting the same Starting XI against AEK that he had three days prior in the Europa League clash. Yassine Meriah is a soldier, but he isn’t a right back. Vasilis Torosidis had a rough time against PAOK and was not used against Dynamo Kyiv, but he should have started against AEK. The same can be said for Lazaros Christodoulopoulos; his rivalry with AEK is very well documented and this was a game that the Greek international was looking forward to. In the second half, both Torosidis and Christodoulopoulos were subbed on and the team stepped on the gas tank. Four goals were scored and the Red triumphed to 4-1 win. Unfortunately for Christodoulopoulos, he suffered a season-ending injury in the 65th minute.
Just when you begin to lose hope in this team, they defy the odds and make you fall in love with them. If we know one thing about the squad, they will go to Ukraine and will fight. The league might be gone for this year, but the Erythrolefki want to win the Greek Cup and make a deep run in Europe to salvage their season. Many non-Red fans were mocking the team online during the half-time. They wondered if the team would come out for the second half. If there’s one thing you don’t want to do, is to poke the 2018-19 version of Olympiacos with a stick. They’ll make you regret it.