Valverde “moved” by rousing reception, Lemonis hoping for a miracle

Valverde “moved” by rousing reception, Lemonis hoping for a miracle

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said he was moved by the rousing reception he received from the supporters of former club Olympiacos as the two teams played out an absorbing goalless draw in the Champions League at an electric Georgios Karaiskakis stadium on Tuesday.

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Barca will have to wait to confirm their place in the last 16 of the competition after a battling display from Takis Lemonis’ men meant the Spanish giants dropped points for the first time in Group D.

On his return to his former club, Valverde watched his in-form side dominate for long spells and create some great chances, but a determined home team held on for a first point, keeping their slim hopes alive.

Olympiakos goalkeeper Silvio Proto was a prominent figure in a frenetic and surprisingly open match at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium in Piraeus, coming to rescue to deny Leo Messi and Luis Suarez on several occasions.

Valverde, who won three titles as coach of Olympiacos in two spells in 2008/09 and from 2010- 2012, received a commemorative plaque before kick-off, as well as a rousing welcome from the home fans who installed a giant banner opposite the dugouts which read “Ernesto thanks for everything”.

“I was very moved by the whole experience of coming back here tonight,” said an emotional Valverde afterwards.

He added: “I love the fans here and they appreciate my work; it was amazing to see such a reception for an opposing coach – it speaks volumes for them really.”

“Olympiacos is a very strong team and with the help of their fans they have achieved a great result and we congratulate them for that. I would love to see them qualify to the next stage but there is a long way to go yet.”

Valverde’s opposite number Lemonis said that the atmosphere in the Olympiakos dressing room has changed and that they will chase third place in the last two games which would bring a place in the Europa League.

He commented: “As things evolved from the first game we are looking for a little miracle to make it to the Europa League, but why not?”

“Today was a good day for us and we could even have scored a goal. Generally things have changed and the climate feels different among the players now. I have been working with the players only for a month so it’s not easy but we will give it our best shot.”

Barcelona retain the leadership of the group with 10 points, and have now extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 15 matches, with 13 wins and two draws.Olympiakos remain bottom of the group but are just three points adrift of third-placed Sporting Lisbon, who they play next in Portugal.

by Graham Wood
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