Felipe Pardo came off the bench in Wednesday’s clash with Zagreb to rescue the night for Marco Silva’s side. Olympiakos recorded their third straight Champions League victory in what is proving to be another successful European campaign.
The Georgios Karaiskakis stadium in Piraeus was packed with 31,473 rabid fans urging their side on, knowing that picking up all three points on Wednesday would prolong their stay in European football this season. For around an hour it looked very different after the home side had gone a goal behind to a Hodzic goal on the 21st minute. Prior to Zagreb taking the lead, much of the attacking endeavour had come from the hosts. Hernani, in particular, looked rather lively in the opening quarter of an hour, making a couple of good attacking runs, but his most telling contribution of the game came in the 16th minute, when he jumped in the area for a cross and produced a fine header from the centre of the box which went agonisingly close to being a goal. The Portugese’s header went centimeters over Eduardo’s crossbar. Five minutes after Hernani’s effort Thrylos found themselves behind and having to chase the game, and their campaign. Josip Pivaric whipped in a cross for the Croatian side and Armin Hodzic met it with a bullet header, the ball hit the underside of the crossbar and into the net. Roberto was helpless and had no real chance of preventing the goal. Luka Milivojevic and Dimitris Siovas came closest to levelling the score for the Reds before the break, both with good headed chances that came to nothing.
Thrylos came out after the break and started the second period positively with a number of attacks, Pajtim Kasami going close shortly after the restart. The corner count was piling up, however, the side were unable to convert any of these set pieces into goals. In the 53rd minute Dinamo’s Goncalo hacked down Ideye in the area and the referee showed no hesitation in awarding a penalty the way of the homeside, Goncalo picked up a yellow card for his actions. Fortounis stepped forward to take the resultant spot kick, the Karaiskakis held it’s breath in anticipation as a golden opportunity presented itself for Olympiakos to get a route back into the game. Fortounis fired his penalty towards the left post but Eduardo dived superbly to his right to parry the shot away, the penalty taker follwed his run and shot from six yards out – but the ball went over. It was a glaring miss and one that should have been buried in the net. The atmosphere changed as it started to dawn on the tens of thousands in attendance that maybe it was going to be one of those nights. Zagreb would draw level on points and make the final two group games an even harder task. Silva watched on for a further ten minutes after that penalty miss as Milivojevic fired over with a promising header and Fortounis sent a wasteful freekick into the box in another effort. The clock read 64 minutes when Silva brought on Felipe Pardo in place of Hernani, whose performance had dropped of since his promising displays in the evening’s early stages. Only a minute later Brown Ideye had found Felipe Pardo on the right side of the edge of the box, Pardo took a touch to control the ball and set himself up and then thundered in an effort past Eduardo and into the left side of the goal! It was an inspired substitution that had paid of instantly. The scores were level, and more importantly Olympiakos again had the head-to-head advantage over Dinamo Zagreb.
The game opened opened up after the goal with both sides in search of the win. Dinamo had a number of attacks, all resulting in nothing. Efforts were either wasted by the tiring visitors and Roberto was on fine form, determined to not let anything else pass him after his disappointment at the opening goal. The Croatians were reduced to ten men at 79 minutes after a Josip Pivaric fould earned him his second booking of the match, the onus was now with Thrylos to make the man advantage count for the remainder of the game. Marco Silva brought off Pajtim Kasami and sent on Alfred Finnbogason in an effort to put more attacking pressure on the ten men of Dinamo. The Reds made their advantage known as they started to pass the ball around with ease, Zagreb were finding possession hard to come by and a couple of fruitless attacks on the counter were all they could muster. Silva’s men had the lion’s share of the ball but were unable to convert any of their attacks into goals. With the game reaching in the 90th minute it looked as though a share of the spoils would be on the cards, but then the man of the moment came up with the goods again! A Kostas Fortounis cross found Felipe Pardo in the area who sent a low powerful shot into the back of Eduardo’s net. Eduardo will be hoping he doesn’t have to face the powerful Colombian again any time soon. Pardo’s late winner sent the crowd into raptures – Thrylos had won their third Champions League match in a row. Now was the time to dream, the fans roared the crowd onto the final whistle when the celebrations started. Olympiakos are starting to show with regularity that they can compete with the best in Europe and this season, again, will see the side play beyond the group stages. A magical substitution from the so far faultless Marco Silva changed the game and made it a magical result.
A point is needed from the trip to Bayern and the home match with Arsenal to cement a place in the Champions League knockout stages. The players do, however, now have the luxury of playing with less pressure, their opponents play their remaining games knowing they have to win. There are many outcomes still possible, but, in brief: Europa League qualification is secured already, a win or draw in any of the remaining two matches will see Champions League knockout football secured. The complexity comes to the issue with Arsenal – if Olympiakos have lost to Bayern Munich and Arsenal have beaten Dinamo Zagreb it will come down to the following criteria, any other outcomes in the matchday five games will see Olympiakos progress through in the Champions League. So, should it come to matchday 6 and Arsenal are on 6 points and Olympiakos are on 9, if Arsenal win and have scored more than two goals on the night they will progress. Should Arsenal win 1-0 it will be dependant on total goal difference, followed by total goals scored. Olympiakos currently have a 0 goal difference and Arsenal -4, but, with two matchdays to play these figures are irrelevant at this stage.