There’s no one like you
AGONAsport’s Olympiacos contributor, Theo Bouras, talks about the Erythrolefki’s thrilling win over AC Milan to advance past the Italians and earn a place in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League.
The sight seemed like something out of a Hollywood movie. Hundreds of fans rejoicing on the Georgios Karaiskakis pitch as Olympiacos had one of their most magical nights in club history. You can say that the Erythrolefki displayed tenacity, pride, and passion; what they showed the footballing world was legendary.
Do or Die
Olympiacos had their backs against the wall going into Thursday's Europa League clash against Italian giants, AC Milan. Pedro Martins and his squad knew the different scenarios that would lead to their qualification to the Round of 32: a 2-0 or 3-1 win would only get it done. If the Reds conceded two goals, they would need to score five goals and win by three goals! Georgios Karaiskakis was packed and the atmosphere, as you can expect, was absolutely electric! Many fans had packed the Peace and Friendship Stadium that is located across the street just a couple of hours earlier to see Olympiacos BC defeat Turkish side, Anadolu Efes, in a EuroLeague basketball clash.
With limited options due to injuries to Nahuel Leiva and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, Martins started Giannis Fetfatzidis on the right side and Daniel Podence on the left flank. The Starting XI also had Miguel Angel Guerrero playing in front of Kostas Fortounis. On the pitch, it was actually Fortounis who once again played up top like a ``False 9`` while Guerrero did a lot of running in the midfield.
From the onset it was obvious that the Rossoneri players were nervous. An early long ball from Pape Abou Cisse led to Guerrero having a glorious chance but his finishing was anemic. Olympiacos continued to control the tempo of the game but were not getting any clear-cut chances. The constant two-man pressure on the ball often led to Milan players making erroneous passes and the ball coming right back to the hosts.
Naturally, Milan were expected to have their share of chances but when they did, Jose Sa was fantastic. His two stops in the 17th and 19th minute on Gonzalo Higuain and Cristian Zapata, respectively, kept the game scoreless. The Legend also had the luxury of having both their wingbacks in fine form. Omar Elabdellaoui and Leonardo Koutris were excellent in their defensive and offensive duties.
An Exciting Second Half
Speaking to a friend yesterday after the conclusion of the game, his words put it best “This game had the feel and pace of a Champions League game“. He was spot on. The second half began like the first one had ended. Fetfatzidis and Fortounis missed a couple of chances outside the box and Milan were trying to catch Olympiacos on the counter-attack. In the 60th minute, Fortounis brilliantly executed a corner kick quickly to Podence who crossed the ball in the box. After a couple of tries, it was Cisse who finally headed the ball in the net. There was reason to believe.
The back and forth “rodeo” type of game continued as Milan missed two chances in the 62nd and 64th with Higuain while Fortounis pulled off a beautiful deke but was stopped by Pepe Reina, Guerrero came charging for the rebound but his shot was blocked by the Italian defence. The pace of the game left little doubt that more goals would be scored.
In the 68th minute, Martins saw the need to send another playmaker in the game, so he substituted Fetfatzidis for Bibras Natcho. Moments later, a Guilherme long shot outside the box bounced off of Cristian Zapata and went into the net. Olympiacos had their two-goal lead and were in the driver’s seat. The celebration that ensued was for the ages but was short-lived. Zapata, seemingly making up for his deflected own goal, tied the game up just two minutes later with a powerful header. It was once again nail-biting time in Piraeus.
The Milan players continued their tactics of delaying the game. Martins, though, had one more ace up his sleeve and that person was Vasilis Torosidis. The veteran Greek international entered the game in a midfielder role to replace Mady Camara. Moments later, Torosidis won a penalty that was converted by a calm Fortounis. The last 15 minutes of play might have felt like an eternity, but Olympiacos staved off Milan for the 3-1 victory.
That’s Why They Call You “Legend”
If Thursday night’s Europa League taught us one thing, it’s that something special is being built in Piraeus this year. Speaking with the media after the game, an emotional Evangelos Marinakis said he believes in this team. Much like has been the story for most of the season; Olympiacos did not get much output from their “striker” position. Needless to say that this is an area that the board will look to upgrade in January should any attractive options arise.
Life has a way of being funny. The penalty given to the Reds by French referee Benoit Bastien was a carbon copy of the one that was “missed” by Thanasis Tzilos this past Sunday in Xanthi.
Olympiacos has been playing Greece’s best brand of football this season and the fact that they are continuing in Europe past the holidays says a lot. After all, this was as close to a Champions League group as you can get.
After the game, it brought a smile to everyone’s face when Marinakis was congratulating the players in the locker room. Former players like Esteban Cambiasso and Panagiotis Retsos (who was on crutches due to his injury) were standing there as if they were still a part of the squad. Olympiacos is a family and nights like these only make Greece’s biggest club, even bigger.
For now, the team must turn their focus to the Greek Superleague. If Olympiacos continue their exciting style of play, not PAOK and not even officiating like the ones we have seen this year can keep the Legend from their 45th Greek title.