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Olympiacos 1-0 Fiorentina: El Kaabi nets extra-time winner in Europa Conference League final

Olympiacos beat Fiorentina 1-0 in the Europa Conference League final to become the first Greek side to win a European trophy.

Europa Conference League

Ayoub El Kaabi broke Fiorentina hearts in the Europa Conference League final by scoring a late extra-time winner for Olympiacos.

The Italian side returned to the final of the competition once again after losing to West Ham at the same stage last term but it was more devastation for the Serie A side.

Vincenzo Italiano’s men certainly had the better of the match and created more chances during normal time, but they lacked the killing touch.

Olympiacos were content to sit in and hit on the counter-attack, as they have done all season, but even they were finding it difficult to break down their opponents.

The match was destined for extra time with only a handful of shots hitting the target in Athens but it was El Kaabi who struck the magic blow.

The Morocco international got down low to meet a Santiago Hezze cross and send the sea of red in the stands in raptures just four minutes before a potential penalty shootout.

Fiorentina rallied in the final seconds but looked beaten after the killer blow.

Their players fell to the floor in devastation when the full-time whistle went while the Olympiacos cohort dashed over to their fans to celebrate.

How it happened

As expected, it certainly had the feel of a home game in Athens, with plenty of Olympiacos fans filling the stadium.

There were jeers every time the Fiorentina cohort were on the ball and the players were perhaps overcome by the situation as the Greek side had the first opportunity of the match.

A clever corner resulted in Daniel Podence picking up the ball on the edge of the box and curling an effort towards goal, only to see it tipped around the post by Pietro Terracciano.

Despite their first start, Olympiacos soon had their backs to the wall and the Italian side responded through Andrea Belotti, who slammed a shot into the side netting from close range.

They then did put the ball into the net but it was disallowed.

Defender Nicola Milenkovic found the ball at his feet at the back coast from a corner and he scrambled the ball over the line but was then judged to be offside.

Again the Serie A side pushed for an opener, this time with Giacomo Bonaventura, who was growing into the game, unleashing a shot inside the box, but failing to get any power behind his effort and allowing Konstantinos Tzolakis to save comfortably.

Podence was certainly up for the affair and his flicked header from a corner nearly gave Olympiacos the lead but for the goalkeeper’s quick reactions, he was then booked a minute late for wiping out an opposition player.

It had been a quiet night so far for prolific striker El Kaabi, but he almost had his chance just before the break.

The Moroccan was chasing down a loose ball and committed to trying to make it his, but so did goalkeeper Terracciano. The pair clattered into each other but were thankfully both fine to continue.

It was goalless at the break, as it was in last year’s final, but Fiorentina had had the better of the chances.

They headed down the tunnel with nine shots to their name compared to Olympiacos’ two.

El Kaabi was more certainly more involved in the second half and he was starting to throw his weight around, testing the Fiorentina defenders as the stakes ramped up.

Little was happening in front of goal and there was a sense of belief growing from both ends of the stadium that one goal was all it was going to take to win the competition.

Changes were made by both sides in the latter stages of the match and things were becoming more stretched as a result.

Vincente Iborra was inches away from an opener for Olympiacos with nine minutes to go.

The veteran midfielder powered a header towards goal from Andre Horta’s free-kick and it scraped the post on its way through but settled out of play for a goal kick.

At the other end, Bonaventura delivered a teasing cross that was met by Milenkovic, but the referee saw a foul in the box and gave the Greek side a free-kick just as Fiorentina looked ready to pounce.

To be honest, the game always looked like it was going to be heading for extra-time and besides some audacious efforts from range in added time, both sides looked content with that outcome.

More boos rang out as Fiorentina picked up the first attack of extra-time and it worked to good effect as they were snuffed out by Olympiacos.

Yellow cards were starting to be dished out like they were in a game of poker rather than football, with the challenges becoming more cynical.

El Kaabi had another few half chances but Milenkovic was proving to be a match for the veteran striker and had clearly prepared for the challenge after watching his performances against Aston Villa.

All it was going to take was one lapse in concentration from either team to prevent the match from going to penalties and that was exactly what happened.

With just four minutes to go in extra time, El Kaabi struck the biggest goal in Olympiacos history.

The 30-year-old did well to time his run and got down incredibly low to head in Hezze’s cross, sending the crowd into pandemonium.

It marked his 16th European goal of the season and what a time it was to get it.

There was a huge amount of injury time added on and Fiorentina had a chance to level through David Carmo, but it was looking like more heartbreak in the final for the Italians.

Flags were flying high in the final minutes of the match as Olympiacos edged nearer to history and they hung on to record a remarkable victory.

History in Athens

Olympiacos became the first Greek side to win a European trophy and it came under the guidance of Jose Luis Mendilibar.

The Spaniard only joined the club in February and he was the third manager of the 2023-24 campaign.

Nevertheless, the decision to bring in the former Sevilla man paid off and he stood and watched as his team’s name was etched onto the magnificent trophy.

It is the second season in a row that the 63-year-old has joined a club midway through the campaign and won silverware.

He became Sevilla’s head coach in March and won the Europa League before being sacked in October.

 

 

Picture of Mitch Fretton

Mitch Fretton

Mitch is a freelance sports journalist with experience working for LiveScore, GOAL and Colchester United. He has experience working from both his desk at home and in the press box at games covering the Champions League and international football.

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