July 24, 2024

Greece erupts in joy as Olympiakos secures maiden European crown

Setting off wild celebrations in Athens, Olympiakos won Greece’s first European club title by beating Fiorentina 1-0 with a goal in extra time of the UEFA Europa Conference League final on Wednesday.

Ayoub El Kaabi provided the dramatic ending, diving to nudge in a last-gasp goal in the second period of extra time, with fans erupting in celebration after a lengthy wait for a VAR check for offside.

“Praise be to God, we promised our supporters we’d do this today and we did it,” El Kaabi said.

The Morocco striker – who finished as the competition’s top scorer – struck in the 116th minute of the match and dropped to his knees as he waited to see if the goal would stand after he had met a cross from Santiago Hezze.

The goal decided a game that had looked destined for a penalty shootout following an energetic but largely risk-free encounter at AEK Arena, and condemned Fiorentina and its coach Vincenzo Italiano to a second straight defeat in the final of the Europa Conference League after losing last year to West Ham.

“We created chances and had the opportunity to lift the cup but unfortunately it didn’t happy – I’m sorry,” Italiano said. “In Europe it’s not an easy thing to get this far and lose.”

Olympiakos coach Jose Luis Mendilibar secured a second straight European title after winning the Europa League with Sevilla last season.

“It’s an honor to have made all these people happy, I feel immense joy and happiness to have made people feel this way and I dedicate it to them,” Mendilibar said.

“We have achieved something that our club has never achieved before. We will celebrate it and celebrate it the way we should. Then we will start working on what comes next.” Tens of thousands of Olympiakos fans joined boisterous celebrations across the Greek capital after attending outdoor viewing parties. Youths held up lit flares in the port city of Piraeus, near Athens, where the team is based.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described Olympiakos as “a true legend,” adding in an online post: “Olympiakos has won the Europa Conference League and made history! A sensational night for the club itself, but also for Greek football as a whole.”

The third-tier European club competition took place amid a massive security operation, with some 5,000 police officers forming concentric cordons around a northern area of the capital – amid Europe-wide security concerns this summer for major sporting events including the Paris Olympics and European soccer championship in Germany.

The final was briefly marred by scuffles between Fiorentina fans inside the stadium and riot police next to them.

Although the visitors dominated the early stages of the final, Fiorentina goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano kept his team in the game with two impressive fingertip saves to block on-target shots from Daniel Podence in the fourth minute and Stevan Jovetic in the sixth minute of extra time.

El Kaabi, who scored a total of 11 goals in the competition, had been largely sidelined in the match by Fiorentina’s unyielding four-man defense.

Olympiakos players celebrated with 15,000 fans after the game, some holding their young children as golden confetti was fired into the air around the awards podium.

“It’s the best emotion I’ve felt so far in my career,” defender Panagiotis Retsos said. “I’ve had a lot of ups-and-downs but I’m very, very happy to be here.”


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