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  • Nick Sakellis

The Return of European Football

There is something oddly romantic about European nights, isn’t there?

The sights, sounds, and dramatic atmosphere around the stadium are welcomed distractions from the day-to-day tasks, and of course, these matches are something to look forward to whether your club is a giant or a minnow in the competition. Perhaps a new outfit is coming to our club’s home ground or perhaps an old clash from years gone by is being revisited during this year’s edition of the 2023-2024 UEFA Europa League.

Whatever the occasion, European nights are special and on Thursday evening at the Georgios Karaiskakis, two clubs will be coming together for the first time in their respective rich histories.

On the one hand, Olympiacos are looking for greener pastures this year in Europe and domestically. Under the careful eyes of Antonio Cordon and Diego Martinez, the Greek giants are hoping to shrug off the immediate past and have re-tooled in what has been an enthusiastic start in Piraeus. On the other hand, Genk are coming with mixed emotions via a very fruitful 2022-2023 campaign which saw the club claim first overall during the Regular Season portion of the Belgian Pro League. However, a loss in penalties against Swiss surprise package, Servette, have seen the “blauw-wit” (blue-white) slip back into the Europa League where the Greeks are awaiting their arrival.

Leg Information

Leg 1: 10 August | Olympiacos vs Genk | Georgios Karaiskakis

Leg 2: 17 August | Genk vs Olympiacos | Cegeka Arena

2023-2024 UEFA Europa League Notes

The tie between Olympiacos and Genk is considered to be a Main Path 1 matchup with both clubs vying for a position in this year’s group stage of the competition. The loser of this tie will be transferred to the Playoffs of the UEFA Europa Conference League.

The UEFA Europa League group stage draw will be held on 1 September, 2023.

Genk: The Route to Piraeus

The 2022-2023 Belgian Pro League campaign was extremely kind to Genk as the club earned top spot during the Regular Season portion of the Belgian Pro League. The blue-whites finished with a commanding 23-6-5 record and were a +41 through their goal-differential (78 GF, 37 GA).

Despite losing their season-opening match away to Club Brugge on 24 July 2022 (3:2), Genk would not taste defeat in sixteen straight Belgian Pro League matches until they were finally defeated by Kortrijk on 26 December 2022 (1:0). During this strong stretch of form, the club accumulated an impressive 15-1-0 record.

This finish crowned Genk the Regular Season champion and qualified the club for the Belgian Play-offs 1 which included Union SG (2nd), Antwerp (3rd), and Club Brugge (4th).

By the end of the home-and-away competition it was Antwerp who were crowned champions. Genk would have to settle for second best and were placed in the 2023-2024 UEFA Champions League Second Qualifying Round against Swiss side - Servette.

Leg 1 of the tie between Genk and Servette ended in a 1:1 stalemate at the Stade de Geneve. Leg 2 ended in a 2:2 draw at the KRC Genk Arena and the 16,200+ fans in attendance would be thrown onto the emotional rollercoaster of penalties to decide who would continue in this year’s prestigious competition. Servette would convert four of four from the spot while Genk could only manage one of three to tickle the twine.

Average Age, Market Value, and European Experience: Matter Much?

Oddly enough, I have had the opportunity to watch Genk on a few occasions throughout the years and in doing so I’ve gained a small glimpse of perspective when it comes to the Belgian Pro League and its frantic and youthful pace depending on who is playing.

This year’s team (so far) features an average age of around 23 years-old and a market value approximating around 130m euros. When compared to Olympiacos, the average age of the Greek giants is around 26 years-old and a market value of roughly 89m euros.

Opinion: I first asked myself if these numbers matter over the course of a two-legged tie this early in the campaign? In my opinion, it is something to take into (light) consideration especially as matches drag on into the later stages of their existence.

As well, experience never hurts either, right? I feel as though Olympiacos has the upper hand in this department despite the age and money gaps between the two clubs. European experience, good or bad, does count for something.

I have no doubts in my mind that the Georgios Karaiskakis will be a chaotic and boisterous environment on Thursday night which will aid the players against a team who might feel a touch intimidated by the spectacle. This atmosphere accompanied by the “new way” of play via Diego Martinez could spell danger for Genk who are licking their wounds from a Champions League exit and suffering their first loss of the season to Eupen this past weekend in the Belgian Pro League.

Super League Greece is Behind: Belgian Pro League Underway

Speaking of domestic league play, in this category at least, Genk shows the upper hand having played twice in the Belgian Pro League plus their European adventure starting earlier than their Greek opponents.

Genk won their first contest, a 4:0 victory, over RWD Molenbeek and lost this past weekend to KAS Eupen by a 1:0 final.

As for Olympiacos, Super League Greece does not get underway until 18 August 2023 and the first match for the club is on 20 August 2023 against Super League Greece newcomers - Panserraikos.

Opinion: For what it’s worth, I have always found that the Super League Greece kicks-off a little later than I personally want it to. Are you in that boat as well?

For example, this tie for Olympiacos could potentially be an extremely fruitful contest against a club that I am fairly confident it (Olympiacos) can handle. However, what worries me is that while the team has had a pre-season, there has been fresh blood being injected into the ranks along the way which may or may not have had the appropriate time frame to gain familiarity with their new surroundings. From an overall team cohesion standpoint, I am a touch worried.

I question that if Olympiacos have a tough time with Genk that we as a fanbase will turn our attention to the likes of the upper brass and question why proceedings with Antonio Cordon (and the hiring of Diego Martinez) took so long which (potentially) stalled our progress ahead of our European and domestic adventures.

It is a lot to think about and at this time being an Olympiacos fan is a bit of a cautious existence as we have yet to see the team in action when points and competition positions are on the line. How will the team gel in such a short period of time? How will the team play both in Greece and Europe? How much patience is at the top and how short is the leash on the entire operation?

Good questions. I guess the answers are coming sooner rather than later.

The First Steps and Patience

Opinion: With matchday looming in the immediate future, there is always a nervous and anxious excitement that comes with the territory. As fans of the club, I am sure we will be looking to erase any and all fragments of last season’s European (and domestic) run from our collective memories and rightly so.

In saying that, the direction that Antonio Cordon and Diego Martinez appear to be taking the club in the short stint they’ve been at the port shows signs of promise and a clear plan to restore the club to its former self which is an Olympiacos can all recognize and can carry themselves on multiple fronts whether it be in Super League Greece, the Greek Cup, and in Europe.

These first two legs against Genk are indeed the first two steps of many to come for the club as a whole. A transition of culture is sweeping through Piraeus and I firmly believe that this mechanism is working more smoothly than it has before. Yes, there are imperfections, but the task that Antonio Cordon (and Diego Martinez) has inherited is excessive and the way to accomplish such a giant task is to chip away at it piece by piece over a period of time.

Patience is key in times such as this.

I am confident in the plan and direction. From chaos comes experience and from experience comes a sense of what works and what doesn’t work in order to find the path to stability and success.

For more pre-European competition content - click here to watch the latest episode from Gate 7 International

Nick Sakellis



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