Olympiakos 2-1 Antwerp: Match Review
After a huge amount of anticipation and build up, the first match of the Europa League group stages for Olympiakos was upon us. With the first opponent being Belgian side Royal Antwerp, there was an expectation that Thrylos would win, not only to start our club’s European campaign right but our season as a whole. Pedro Martins, as expected, started his side in the 4-3-3 formation, with the surprise addition of Agibou Camara on the wing, leaving more experienced midfielder Mathieu Valbuena on the bench. It was certainly a sight to see in the Karaiskakis Stadium, with a mostly packed ground on a European night for the first time in nearly a year and a half, cheering our team to victory.
The match began and for the first 15 minutes or so, both sides attempted to figure the other out and exchanged possession without creating anything meaningful. It would be Olympiakos who had the first big chance of the evening, with Captain Bouchalakis’ cross finding El Arabi whose shot was deflected wide for the first corner of the match- a warning sign of things to come from Thrylos.
From that point, the Greek champions saw a lot more of the ball as in the early proceedings and controlled the tempo of the game leading into the midway point of the first half. Another chance came through Mady Camara but his shot was comfortably saved by the keeper. As the first half continued, Olympiakos started to pressure and looked the better and more confident side overall. Our defence too was having a reasonably comfortable evening at that point with Antwerp hardly able to create anything meaningful and any attempt outside the box going well wide.
At the half hour mark, however, the away side started to find a bit more momentum with a couple of dangerous corners that were thankfully dealt with by the Thrylos defence. The host attempted to take back control of the match after winning a set piece in a dangerous area. Bouchalakis stepped up to take it and crossed the ball into the path of Cisse who headed it just wide of the post, a huge miss. Thrylos and their supporters thought they had finally broken the deadlock when Mady Camara’s cross found El Arabi who flicked it over the keeper and into the back of the net. After a check from VAR, however, the goal was correctly ruled out for offside.
The latter stages of the first half saw a rather open affair, with the best chance for Antwerp at that point coming through forward Viktor Fischer but his attempt was well saved by Tomas Vaclik. Moments later Aguibou ‘Baby’ Camara came close with another chance for Olympiakos but it was also saved comfortably. The last big chance of the half came from Mbwana Samatta with a late opportunity that also went wide.
After the break, the second half started in a similar breath to the first with an even amount of possession. Seven minutes later, Mady Camara once again found El Arabi via a cross, with the Moroccan striker skilfully heading the ball past the keeper to break the deadlock, finally making it 1-0 to the home side and sending the fans into raptures. Olympiakos at first attempted to immediately double their lead and applied more pressure onto Antwerp. Just before the hour mark, a free-kick was won by Baby Camara and Mady’s ensuing cross once again found the head of Cisse, but the giant defender could not put it on target and it was another missed opportunity.
After that, momentum dropped for both teams, as Olympiakos began to get a little bit too comfortable with their one-goal lead and allowed Antwerp to keep most of the possession. Another chance came from Thrylos with twenty minutes until full time as Onyekuru attempted a header from a cross but he was rightly called for offside. Erythrolefkoi started to fall asleep a bit going into the latter stages of the match with Antwerp gaining momentum and threatening to equalise. It eventually came to pass as, with 15 minutes left, a cross found the head of Samatta who put it past Vaclik to make it 1-1 for the visitors. A huge blow for Olympiakos.
Substitutions were made immediately after the away side drew level and Pedro Martins threw out Valbuena to replace a tired Yann M'Vila and revert to a 4-2-3-1. Afterwards, a trio of players came on including Tiquinho, Kunde, and Vrousai with the hope of grabbing a late winner. It was Antwerp at first that looked most likely to score a winner with goalscorer Samatta coming close again with a low shot that went just wide. The away side threatened again with Benson’s attempt also going off target. After a period of positive play from Thrylos, Vrousai did excellently to keep the ball from going out and passing back to Oleg just inside the opposing box. The Moldovan left back fired an impressive shot past the keeper and scored a late winner to restore Olympiakos lead making it 2-1 to wild celebrations from the players and supporters.
After 3 minutes of stoppage time was given, Kunde was fouled by Antwerp player Bataille, who was already on a yellow card. The player was booked for a second time and in doing so was sent off, reducing his side to 10 men and killing off any real chance for a late equaliser. After a failed set piece from Antwerp that resulted in a corner being well defended, the match ended and Olympiakos celebrated their huge victory in front of the Gate 7 faithful.
Stats and Reflection
Statistically, this was a fairly even match. Thrylos had only five shots less than Antwerp but the home side was able to accumulate more shots on target with 4 to the Belgian side’s 1, This means that Olympiakos were both able to create more clear-cut chances while the defence for the most part did their job in frustrating the away sides attack, with the only exception being the unfortunate equaliser from Samatta. Possession too was also fairly level with Antwerp having 55% and Olympiakos only just trailing on 45%. The Belgian side boasted the better pass accuracy at 83% although Thrylos were only behind their opponents on 78%.
Upon reflection, this was not a vintage Olympiakos performance in Europe. There are still clear signs that the team has not fully jelled yet and that can be put down to the lack of competitive fixtures and the league only just starting last weekend. Not to mention a couple of key players still out injured. But as someone who tries to see the positives, there were plenty I saw from this game that should give fans of the Greek champions hope for better performances in the future.
The chance creation was there and at times we did look dangerous on the attack, albeit our runs in the final third still need a bit of work. Our defence overall looks assured; despite conceding they were able to cancel out much of Antwerp’s attack throughout the majority of the match. Martins too did a great job managing this game in my opinion. Starting Baby Camara brought raw energy to the right hand side of midfield and his substitutes once again helped in scoring the winning goal and preserving our lead in the latter stages.
What needs to improve immediately, is the lapse of concentration. That midway point through the second half was far too comfortable for the team and it inadvertently led to Antwerp’s equaliser. Thankfully we did have the strength and quality to go and win the match but against better sides, Olympiakos will be punished far more often if they do not keep that focus for the full 90. Hopefully, we take this victory and the momentum from it to kickstart our season properly while also learning from mistakes made from this game to not make them again. Πάμε θρύλος!