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History-makers Olympiakos to face Fiorentina in Europa Conference League final | Football News – Times of India

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Olympiakos secured their place in the Europa Conference League final by defeating Aston Villa 2-0 in the second leg of the semi-finals, marking a historic moment for the club. Led by Jose Luis Mendilibar, Olympiakos sealed a commanding 6-2 aggregate victory, largely thanks to Ayoub El Kaabi’s brace, who had also scored a hat-trick in the first leg.
The atmosphere at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus was electrifying as Olympiakos, boasting a record 47 Greek championships, earned their debut in a major European final.This achievement places them alongside Panathinaikos as the only Greek clubs to reach such heights, with Panathinaikos falling to Ajax in the 1971 European Cup final.
The upcoming final against Fiorentina at the AEK Arena adds to the sense of destiny for Olympiakos, as it lies just 10 miles away from their home ground, further emphasizing the local rivalry.
Despite Mendilibar’s recent appointment in February, he has quickly become an iconic figure for Olympiakos, turning around their European fortunes after several disappointments in previous seasons.
Under the ownership of Evangelos Marinakis, Olympiakos had struggled in Europe, failing to progress past the group stage 14 times out of 16 attempts. However, this season presents an opportunity for redemption, with Olympiakos aiming to secure their first European trophy in their nearly century-long history, a feat that would rival Greece’s memorable Euro 2004 triumph.
It has been a remarkable year for Olympiakos, highlighted by their Under-19 team’s success in the UEFA Youth League final against AC Milan in April.
On the other hand, Fiorentina booked their spot in the final by overcoming Club Brugge in the semi-finals, setting the stage for a thrilling showdown.
Villa’s departure marked a painful end to their quest for their first European final appearance since 1982. After returning to European competition following a 13-year hiatus, Villa now face the challenge of regrouping and redirecting their focus towards securing a top-four finish in the Premier League to qualify for the next season’s Champions League.
Under the guidance of Unai Emery, currently occupying fourth place in the league standings, Villa hold a seven-point lead over Tottenham, who sit in fifth place with three games remaining, compared to Villa’s two.
Early in the match, Olympiakos’s Chiquinho had a chance on goal after bypassing Villa’s defense, but his shot missed the target. However, Villa failed to take heed of this warning as Olympiakos capitalized on their defensive lapses to take the lead in the 10th minute.
Despite Villa’s attempts to find their rhythm, they struggled to coordinate their efforts, exemplified by Leon Bailey’s slip as he attempted a shot that posed little threat to Olympiakos goalkeeper Kostas Tzolakis, who showcased his skill with a remarkable save to deny Bailey’s powerful strike just before halftime.
With Olympiakos firmly in control of the match, they pressed relentlessly and defended resolutely to keep Villa at bay. In the 78th minute, Ayoub El Kaabi sealed the result for Olympiakos, capitalizing on Tzolakis’s clearance to score, securing their victory and igniting celebrations among the Olympiakos faithful.
(With AFP inputs)

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