Olympiakos, Those European Nights
Updated: Apr 10, 2021
So, what are the perks of supporting a Greek football club as great as Olympiakos? The Greek and foreign players who come to the club lighting up the Karaiskakis Stadium in red and white, the diehard fans who cheer, sing, and shout from before a match until long after the players have left the stadium, or the titles and cups won consistently? These are a few of the inspiring sounds and sights witnessed in my near ten years of electric European nights following Thrylos.
Watching our beloved team, in Greek, the Ερυθρόλευκοι (Erithriolefki), stand head-to-toe with Europe’s biggest and best, with hope shared between players, coaches, and fans, we keep on dreaming, and this becomes our mantra as we strive towards the final of a major competition. To celebrate my joining the cast of Gate 7 International, we take a trip down memory lane by my favorite victories and dive into what makes Olympiakos the greatest club in the world.
2-1 vs Arsenal (2012)
We begin with a match played in 2012 and one of the first Olympiakos matches in my life. Greek Super League matches are hard to come by in the United Kingdom, and the only way I can follow my newly adopted team is on ITV when they play European competition. Assured a Europa League showing but out of the running for the Champions League Round of Sixteen, the idea that Olympiakos might prevent opponents Arsenal from finishing top of the group is an afterthought. The pervading notion is the desire to see my team win as the well-rotated Gunners squad strikes first a few minutes before halftime with a well-placed cross finding Czech international Thomas Rosicky. Gunners 1, Thrylos nil.
The clock counts sixty-four minutes before the Greek champions earn a reward. Forward pressure from Olympiakos motivates a cross toward the head of Kostas Manolas, but the ball glances off an Arsenal defender into the path of Giannis Maniatis who pokes it home. This sends the Piraeus faithful into raptures and the team pressing on through the draw. Minutes later the impact substitute and Greek international Kostas Mitroglou turns his man and finesses the ball into the top shelf past a young Wojciech Szczęsny, sealing a comeback and establishing this club as my beloved. Gunners 1, Thrylos 2.
0-3 vs Anderlecht (2013)
After a disappointing first Champions League Match Day defeat to PSG and amidst an otherwise successful campaign within Greece, we find ourselves in Belgium facing Anderlecht with a point to prove and Kostas Mtroglou well and truly established as the starting striker; there is hope. I recall this match vividly, the Belgian side squanders multiple opportunities to take an early lead and open the door to an Olympiakos counter. Saviola, Weiss, Mitroglou; nil - 1. The tempo continues through Andreas Samaris’ defensive mistake. Nearly costing us the lead, Andreas finds himself redeemed by a confident Roberto save on the Mitrovic penalty attempt to close out the first half.
The second half begins with more fervent attempts to equalize by the Belgian squad falling short. Not until the fifty-sixth minute are we sent to raptures this time, with Mitroglou slotting home a dagger shortly after an Anderlecht turnover in their defensive third, nil - 2. Minutes later Fuster breaks through on a pass from behind centerfield and sends the ball forward for Mitroglou who holds up and angles towards the net. Weiss is in tow and runs a screen right to left. Mitro looses an attempt from outside the eighteen to the far side of Kaminski and the far side of a hat trick; nil - 3. The night is ours.
2-0 vs Manchester United (2014)
During the Champions League draw, the name of British Premiership giants Manchester United is met with positive excitement and quiet confidence. Their squad lead by David Moyes is struggling to find form domestically, and despite finishing on top of Group A, pales in comparison to the United squad of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure. The timing appears favorable, the departures of Kostas Mitroglou and Vladimir Weiss to Fulham and Al-Duhail respectively levelling the mood on-stage as Olympiakos set about quashing United’s creativity.
Despite the perceived gaps in our side, we can smell United’s fear as we begin strong with Alejandro Chori Dominguez singlehandedly powering through the midfield towards goal, fans erupting as his advance is snuffed out. On the tail of an attempt sent wide by Holebas and with halftime looming, Maniatis funnels the ball into the eighteen, and Chori angles his foot; 1 - nil.
Our dominance continues as the English champions begin to unravel. Casual defensive man-marking costs Manchester United after ceding Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell too much space atop the penalty area. We cheer and thank Michael Olaitan for his contribution, looking on in amazement with him as a stunner loop into the netting. Joel Campbell is immortalized among fans of the Piraeus side despite Olympiakos losing the second leg at Old Trafford to a Robin Van Persie master class hat trick.
3-2 vs Atletico Madrid (2014)
Kickstarting what we hope is another successful Champions League group stage campaign, we encounter Atletico de Madrid on Match Day One. A squad of Spanish Champions and ultimately Champions League 2014 finalists meets their match as Olympiakos press at their opponents from the first whistle. After Chori Dominguez and Dutch international Ibrahim Afellay link up in the thirteenth minute, the Dutch winger makes a long pass to French left-back Arthur Masuaku. He threads the ball past everyone in the box for a one to nil lead.
Not one to back down, the Madrid side ups the tempo to equalise, but Chori takes the ball, counters well into the opposing half, and crosses low into the path of Kostas Mitroglou. Mitro feints, dummying the ball through his legs to an unmarked Afellay. Jan Oblak is powerless to stop the ball from Afellay and watches it pass outside his reach; 2 - nil. Atletico pulls one back before the break via Croatian target man Mario Mandzukic’s head in the penalty area to make it 2 - 1.
Throughout the second half, Atleti probe forwards searching for a leveler and are constantly thwarted by a stubborn Olympiakos defense and the capable hands of Roberto. Seventy-five minutes in, Maniatis is fouled, and the ball is picked up by Pajtim Kasami on a given advantage. The Swiss international makes a mazy run into the box before a low cross finds the feet of Mitroglou who cleverly turns his defender and slips the ball past Oblak to make it 3 - 1. This is a huge moment in my life for Thrylos and for Mitrogoal who after his return from Fulham shows he is still capable of scoring in big European games, and Antione Griezmann’s 86th-minute consolation goal escalates the fervor surrounding Kostas Mitroglou and his stamped seal on this victory at Piraeus.
2-3 vs Arsenal (2015)
I walk past Highbury Fields, through an alleyway, and out in front of a sea of Gunners supporters. From the moment we arrive, the bellowing of Thrylos faithful carries over all of them. This is a special occasion, my first Olympiakos match live in a stadium. My uncle is a huge Arsenal fan. He has home-team seating tickets for us to see the Gunners face off against the Greek champions at Emirates Stadium on Match Day 2.
In the first thirty, a strong Gunners side managed by Arsene Wenger dominates proceedings in their ninth but certainly not their last meeting with Olympiakos. Thrylos win a corner which Kostas Fortounis cleverly crosses to an unmarked Felipe Pardo outside the box. He fires a shot at goal which takes a slight deflection off an Arsenal defender past Ospina. The away side are ahead, and I need to maintain my poker face in enemy territory.
The home fans rejoice soon after as Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott link up for the English winger to score a reply past Roberto to make it 1 - 1. Marco Silva's Erithriolefki finds their feet. Five minutes before halftime Fortounis crosses the ball into the box, and David Ospina fumbles the ball over the goal line to make it 1-2 to Thrylos. Dimitris Siovas extends his foot to poke the ball deeper into the net and lay his claim to Ospina’s own goal. The belief I might witness my team win a European competition match in my first live game carries on.
After a great move by Alexis Sanchez, another Gunners equaliser is headed home; 2-2. I doubt more opportunities are to come for Olympiakos. Olympiakos press forward on the ensuing kick-off, Pardo crosses it low to find substitute Alfreð Finnbogason, and Finnbogason’s subtle touch is just enough to squeeze it past Ospina; 2 - 3 to the Greek champions. I turn to my dad in disbelief, and he looks as shocked as I feel. The bellowing from Thrylos faithful carries on into the London night. I hope to experience Olympiakos live again soon, only in Piraeus with my fellow Thrylos fans.
3-1 vs AC Milan (2018)
After a couple seasons of mediocre to poor performances in Europe, this game comes at a time when our expectations are quite low. The club and supporters need a memorable night in European football to give everyone a huge boost. So perhaps this match comes at the best possible time. Five games in, Thrylos find themselves in third place behind AC Milan. Trailing by three points we need a two-goal swing to overtake the Italian giants in the final game of the group. My expectations are not high. Seeing us lose to the former Champions League winners in the away fixture is the culprit. But there is a glimmer of hope in our team’s capability.
I am pleasantly surprised to see the Erithriolefki play with real passion and fight to not go out at this early stage. It does not seem like we are overwhelmed competing with a team boasting better individuals on paper. At the close of the first half, it is scoreless after a couple of close chances for either side. My confidence grows and I feel like something huge is coming. At 60 minutes, Kostas Fortounis snaps a short corner to an unmarked teammate. The subsequent cross finds the head of Miguel Angel Guerrero. The ball glances off a Milan player and Pape Cisse is there to push the ball in and break the deadlock. 1 - nil, Thrylos.
Less than ten minutes later, a cross comes in from the left-hand side and is poorly cleared by Zapata straight into the path of Guilherme who attempts a shot from outside the box. That same defender attempts to clear but in doing so loops the ball over Pepe Reina and gifts Olympiakos an own goal. Qualification is within our sights. Those hopes dampen slightly but a moment later. A Milan corner flown in by Calhanoglu finds the head of Zapata who redeems his earlier mistake with a goal. This puts Milan back in second on goal difference.
Even with this setback, I can sense another goal brewing. Another ten minutes pass, another corner flies in, but a scuffle in the box follows. Olympiakos are awarded a penalty. A huge opportunity looms for Thrylos to swing the tie. Kostas Fortounis steps up to take the spot-kick with no less than the weight of the whole Karaiskakis faithful on his shoulders. 3 - 1. The final whistle brings sweet jubilation.
1-2 vs Arsenal (2020)
Qualified for the Round of 32 of the Europa League, Olympiakos find themselves facing none other than Arsenal once more. The first leg in Piraeus does not go according to plan. The Gunners emerge victorious and take a nil - 1 win and crucial away goal back to North London. Arsenal fans are quick to deem the tie all but over. The Gunners’ play mirrors the hubris. Olympiakos may be down but we are certainly not out.
An offside Lacazette puts the ball into the netting in the thirty-eighth minute, and the goal is correctly ruled out. One half of regulation football remains to save our European season. Olympiakos come flying out of the blocks to level the tie. After a cross from Tsimikas deflects behind for a corner, a looping cross from Mathieu Valbuena's finds the head of Pape Cisse. The tie now sits at 1 - 1 on aggregate. A few more build-ups coalesce into near misses from both sides, and the match progresses into extra time. My heart is in my mouth. Olympiakos are going the distance.
Lacazette squanders an opportunity, and Masouras at the other end sees his shot deflect off the crossbar and out. Aubameyang scores an excellent volley from close range to set Arsenal forward 2 - 1 on aggregate. Ten minutes of extra time remain. The tie is probably done and dusted. I am happy to see my doubts proven wrong. With a shade over a minute left on the clock, everyone piles into the Arsenal box for a late corner, even goalkeeper Jose Sa. The cross is not dealt with safely and falls to Omar Elabdellaoui who passes it back to Masouras under pressure. The Greek international lets fly with a peach of a cross. El Arabi drives it into the net to score a late winner for Olympiakos. The minutes tick - one hundred and nineteen.
We nearly lose it at the death. Instead, Aubameyang misplaces an absolute sitter. It is not to be for Mikel Arteta's men. The Gate 7 faithful celebrate the unthinkable after one of the biggest nights in Olympiakos European history and a night that lives long in the memory of any fan of Thrylos.