Olympiacos Win Key Battle with the War on the Horizon
AGONAsport’s Olympiacos contributor, Theo Bouras, talks about Olympiacos’ recent matches, the key result over Airs, the upcoming matches against Dudelange and Panathinaikos, and the off the field difficulties the club faces on a weekly basis.
On their flight back to Piraeus, Olympiacos players must have felt some elation. After winning in Luxembourg and giving their qualification chances a much-needed boost, the team knew it had a difficult schedule along the way. A theoretically easy home game against Apollon Smyrnis would be followed be a road trip to Thessaloniki against the always resilient Aris. One week later, the Erythrolefki await their eternal rivals, Panathinaikos.
Avoiding the Season`s Worst Result
From the outset, Olympiacos were looking to trounce Apollon Smyrnis. Giannis Mantzourakis` team had yet to record a single point in the SuperLeague this season, and they seemed destined to add another loss to their record once they arrived at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium. A pitiful showing by the Reds in the first half must have given fans a flashback of the game the week before in Crete. In the second half, the addition of Bibras Natcho gave Pedro Martins` team the edge and it was an 89th minute strike by Dimitris Manos that gave Olympiacos the narrow 1-0 win.
We've touched on how this team has serious goal-scoring issues, but at this point, it seems like anyone who is willing to park the bus against Olympiacos will be in the running for at least a point. Of course, the officiating was once again borderline hateful, with three Olympiacos players wrongfully called offside in the first half and some rough play by Apollon players going unnoticed by referee Praxtitelis Zachariadis. This isn’t anything new though, and like Martins mentioned “we need to find a way to beat opposing teams and the officials”.
Three days later, fans gathered at the Pampeloponnisiako Stadium to see Panachaiki host the 44-time Greek Champions in Greek Cup action. With Olympiacos leading 1-0 in the second half, the game was interrupted because the police deemed it necessary to light smoke bombs. Now most of you have already made up your minds on the issue; Olympiacos supporters will argue that the police instigated the entire fiasco, while detractors will jump on the opportunity to see the Reds get penalized. To the latter folks I ask these questions: how can Olympiacos be penalized for a game where their fans didn't officially receive tickets to go as a group? How can Olympiacos be penalized for violence when all the pictures we have seen have shown families (women, children, fathers, grandfathers) simply defending themselves from the police? Why should Olympiacos be deducted three points in the SuperLeague standings when the game was in the Greek Cup competition? There is no question that there are a few idiot fans everywhere, but make no mistake about it, the Greek Football Federation saw this as a perfect opportunity to remove points from the Erythrolefki - much like they did to AEK earlier this year. We’ve all understood that the goal is clear, PAOK must win the League this season by all means.
Natcho the Great
Going into the Kleanthis Vikelidis is never an easy feat, but doing so surrounded by a cloud of controversy has doomsday written all over it. Olympiacos started off with a solid 20 minutes of football on Sunday but was unable to score. Leonardo Koutris, who has been in top form as of late and has regained the starting left-back position, was connecting with Daniel Podence and Kostas Fortounis to create a dangerous triangle on the left side. Christodoulopoulos was far out right in order to have a bit more space. It was great to see Ahmed Hassan back in the starting striker position for the Erythrolefki. The Egyptian international has the right qualities to be a goal scorer and he showed his worth last week.
Bibras Natcho was, once again, the golden substitution for Martins. An impeccable long ball by the Israeli midfielder led to a perfectly executed low cross by Koutris and a splendid finish by Hassan. After bailing Olympiacos out against Asteras Tripolis and Apollon Smyrnis, Natcho was anew the difference-maker against Aris. His composure with the ball and his technique will eventually leave Martins with no other choice but to start him. What pleased me, as much as the victory this past Sunday, was the fight the players had. In Crete, the Olympiacos players received a beating on the field and almost felt the need to apologize for it. Against Aris, the team fought back and battled hard on the pitch.
Questions marks before Dudelange, Panathinaikos
One day before their crucial Europa League clash against Dudelange, the board is trying to sort out the mess that took place in Patra. It’s almost certain that Olympiacos will lose 3 points in the SuperLeague rankings. Grammenos and his cronies see this as a perfect opportunity to send Olympiacos 7 points in back of PAOK; nearly handing the Dikefalos tou Vorra the championship. Olympiacos players need to stay focused and nothing but three points will do this Thursday to keep their Europa League Round of 32 hopes alive.
As for Sunday, Olympiacos has the quality and the drive to beat Panathinaikos. Giorgos Donis’ team has played above expectations this season, but now that the difficult part of their schedule has arrived, the Greens are starting to show real cracks. The Karaiskakis stadium needs to be a church this Sunday; we know very well that many are looking for a reason to end Olympiacos’ championship chances early. Konstantinos Karapappas said it best “if this championship is decided by EPO in the courts, we’re out of luck”. Court decisions are funny; they can be quick, or they can be decided after a long day’s work at 1AM - like thieves sneaking in the night. Olympiacos has their work cut out for them this year; the media, the officials, the Greek Football Federation and the Greek government want to make sure Marinakis’ team fails. It’s hard not to be romantic about this team - a team that, despite having all the odds stacked against it, gives you hope that it will battle to the very end.