Olympiakos vs PAOK: Greek Cup Final Preview
It’s that time of year again. Unless there are any postponements for any unknown reason after this blog has been written, the Greek Cup final is upon us. After a long season of Greek football, the perfect way to end things off with a bang is a bout between first and second place in the Greek Super League this season, that being Olympiakos and PAOK respectively.
Both sides will be having very different expectations going into this tie. For champions Thrylos, it’s the chance for us to claim a second consecutive domestic double for the first time since 2012/13. For the Aspromavrοi, it’s a chance to ruin what has been a very dominant season for their southern opponents and win their first Greek Cup since 2019. So for this week, I will be previewing the final match of the 2020/21 Greek football season, looking back at how Thrylos reached the final at OAKA, competitive record during the domestic campaign and how I think Erythrolefki will set up against the Thessaloniki side.
How Thrylos Reached the Final
Defending champions Thrylos started the competition against lower first-tier side Panetolikos in round one. It was a rather comfortable two-legged affair for Pedro Martins’ men and in both legs Olympiakos won 3-0, going through to the last eight 6-0 on aggregate. A sterner test faced Thrylos in the quarter finals as Aris lay in weight, who themselves were high flying this season domestically. Within the first 15 minutes of the first half in Piraeus, it was 2-1 to Olympiakos after a Hassan masterclass double and an Ousseynou Ba clanger to give Theós you polémou a crucial away goal.
The return leg in Thessaloniki would prove to be the toughest game for Olympiakos in the Greek Cup, as Bruno Gama scored a penalty just before the hour mark put Thrylos to the sword and looked to be going out on away goals. As the end of normal time approached, Andreas Bouchalakis, with a moment of sheer tenacity and shithousery, ran from behind the keeper and stole the ball and scored. The goal stood and from the jaws of defeat, the skipper gave his side a 2-1 win on the night and 3-2 overall to reach the semi finals.
The last four brought with it an unlikely opponent for Erythrolefki in the form of PAS Giannina, who had knocked out Panathinaikos in the previous round. Giannina gave Thrylos trouble as they hosted the champions during the first leg. On the stroke of halftime, PAS won a penalty and went ahead against a rather lethargic Thrylos side. After missing a couple of sitters, that man Hassan came up clutch with 15 minutes to go with a fantastic overhead kick to give his side a vital away goal. The return leg at Karaiskakis was a much better performance from Olympiakos as they ran out 3-1 winners and 4-2 on aggregate to reach their second Greek Cup final in a row.
Previous Encounters this Season
Throughout the domestic season, Olympiakos and PAOK have played each other four times, twice in the regular season and twice again during the playoffs, with the Greek cup final being the 5th and final time.
The first match between the two sides was played in Thessaloniki in a cagey game that ended all square at 1-1. PAOK and Icelandic defender Sverrir Ingi Ingason gave his side the lead early in during the second half with a well-taken header from a set piece. Olympiakos responded with just over ten minutes of normal time to go as a corner from Kostas Fortounis found the head of Ousseynou Ba to level proceedings, and the match finished level. The following match was played in Piraeus and it looked like it could go a similar way after halftime with the score at 0-0. The second half was a completely different story as Thrylos ran riot against the Aspromavroi. El Arabi broke the deadlock, Mady Camara doubled their lead and Vrousai made an impact off of the bench by grabbing a third. 3-0 was the scoreline in a well deserved victory for Olympiakos.
The two teams would encounter one another again during the playoff stage of the Super League season. By the time the first match at Toumba came around, Olympiakos were already mathematically champions and had been given several days off in the build up to this fixture. PAOK meanwhile still had a lot to play for as they were pushing for a strong finish domestically and a place in next season's Europa Conference League. So as the match played out, Olympiakos, while still match fit, looked a tad off the pace against a PAOK side who had a point to prove in the build up to face one another in the Greek Cup Final. Andrija Zivkovic capitalised on a mistake from Avraam for the first goal and doubled the lead of his team to give them some bragging rights and a 2-0 victory.
Thrylos got their revenge a couple of weeks ago as they hosted the Thessaloniki side in the final home game of the season in Karaiskakis. There was a bit more on the line during the build up to this match as Olympiakos were looking to claim a victory to give the team and their supporters celebrating outside the stadium a huge boost before officially lifting our 46th league title. For the first time in any fixture between the two sides this season, a goal was scored in the first half, as Giorgos Masouras, who has been on fire for Ethryolefki in recent weeks, scored what would be the winning goal in the 13th minute as Olympiakos ran out 1-0 winners and a worthy result upon which we could see our team lift the Greek Super League title.
Injuries, Suspensions, and Lineup Prediction
As far as injuries go for Olympiakos, Pedro Martins’ only real headache with regards to player selection is at centre back. Ba is still out after his back surgery and Avraam Papadopoulos is also apparently unavailable with his recurring hip injury. The hope is that by the match comes around this Saturday Sokratis, who came off injured during the home game against PAOK in the league a couple of weeks ago, will more or less be ready and available after concern that he would be out for this game also.
The Starting XI more or less speaks for itself...but I'm going to predict it anyway. Despite a couple of missing defenders, Pedro Martins will set up his side in a 3-4-3. In goal will be Jose Sa as Usual. The defensive trio will most likely be the combination of Ruben Semedo, Sokratis returning from injury and Jose Holebas on the left centre back role. The fullback roles will be given to Thanasis Androutsos, who has been flying on the right side of defence this season, and Oleg Reabciuk at left wingback.
Mady Camara, who could be playing his last game at the club amidst rumours of a move away from this summer, will start alongside Yann M'Vila in the midfield two. Upfront will be the deadly trio of Masouras on the left who has impressed with his decisiveness in front of goal in the last couple of months, Bruma on the right wing who is still fighting to justify being signed permanently to the club, and Youssef El Arabi at centre forward who will be looking to add to his already outstanding goal tally this season.
Final thoughts on this game, PAOK will make it hard for us at times and I could so easily see what we have witnessed throughout the season, with a cagey first half, a more open second and goals being scored in the latter stages of the match. I will for once attempt to be more fruitful with my scoreline and say that Olympiakos will run out 3-1 winners, retaining the Greek Cup and claiming a much deserved domestic double.