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Europa Conference League Final: Olympiacos boss urges players to stay cool

Jose Luis Mendilibar won't let Athens final affect his squad when they face Fiorentina

Europa Conference League

Olympiacos boss Jose Luis Mendilibar is urging his squad to stay cool as they prepare to take on Fiorentina in the cauldron of Athens in the UEFA Europa Conference League final.

Olympiacos are based in Pireaus, around 10 miles from the Athens stadium which is home to their rivals AEK where Wednesday night’s final will be held.

Mendilibar’s side are seeking to make history by becoming the first Greek club to win a European trophy while Fiorentina are seeking to end a 23-year wait for silverware of any kind.

With the 9,000 travelling Italian fans expected to be vastly outnumbered in Greece, Mendilibar told a pre-match press conference: “We have to stay calm and relaxed and do what got us to the final. To change anything would be a mistake.

“We have to treat this game like any other, because that’s how we managed to get to the final.”

How have they reached the final?

Olympiacos entered the competition in the new year after exiting the Europa League but have caught the eye with a series of impressive displays, particularly on the road.

They overturned a 4-1 deficit from the home leg against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Round of 16 before going through courtesy of a 6-1 win after extra time.

They also scored four times at Villa Park to overcome the English side which qualified for next season’s Champions League.

“For sure (the Maccabi Tel Aviv) game showed everyone what we are capable of,” Mendilibar said.

“We went behind and then we did everything we could to turn the match around, and we managed to do so in the second leg. We realised then what we are capable of.”

Mendilibar, who lifted the Europa League with Sevilla last season, joined the club in February and has overseen all eight of their Conference League games, though he said the finish line is in sight after a marathon campaign – fittingly in Greece.

“Along the way, we’ve crossed the whole of Europe, playing against a lot of opponents,” he said.

“At times we were favourites, and then underdogs again. There are so many different moments and I think we could call it a marathon, and now we’ve reached the end.”

All eyes on El Kaabi

Olympiacos striker Ayoub El Kaabi scored a hat-trick against Aston Villa and is set to be the competition’s leading scorer after netting 10 goals in eight games thus far.

The 30-year-old has scored 32 goals in all competitions in his first season with the club and told “When I got the offer from Olympiacos, I saw it as a personal challenge. Olympiacos are a prestigious club always vying for domestic honours and involved in European competition.

“I had dreamed of playing in European competition. Now we are one step away lifting the trophy – it’s a dream I hope will come true.”

He added: “After our comeback (from 4-1 down) against Maccabi Tel Aviv, confidence soared. We grew united and with a newfound confidence in our abilities. It all came together in England. Nothing is beyond reach for those who persevere.

“We’d never even made it to the semi-finals before, let alone reaching the final itself. We all were proud and delighted, particularly when the people welcomed us at the airport. It’s not only our fans; all the Greeks are proud of us.”

Who is favourite for tonight’s clash?

Despite being effectively the way team, Fiorentina are favourites with bet365 offering odds of 7/5 for them to go one better than last year and win inside 90 minutes.

Olympiacos are at 21/10.

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Alex Hoad

Alex has more than 15 years' experience in sports journalism and has reported on multiple Olympics, World Cups and European Championships in additional to Champions League, Europa League and domestic football.