Olympiacos eye history against Fiorentina in Conference League final

Published May 29, 2024
ATHENS: Fiorentina’s Lucas Martinez Quarta shoots during a training session at the Agia Sophia Stadium on Tuesday.—Reuters
ATHENS: Fiorentina’s Lucas Martinez Quarta shoots during a training session at the Agia Sophia Stadium on Tuesday.—Reuters

ATHENS: Olympiacos have a chance to become the first Greek club to win a European trophy in Wednesday’s Europa Conference League final, but they face a Fiorentina side still smarting from their defeat in last season’s decider.

Jose Luis Mendilibar, who took charge of Olympiacos in Febr­uary, is hoping he can repeat his achievements from last season when he became Sevilla manager late in the campaign and led them to victory in the Europa League.

“The whole scenario is very similar,” Mendilibar said in an interview with UEFA.

“Sevilla were in a relegation battle, we weren’t here at Olympiacos, but expectations here are sky high and we weren’t meeting them.

“We couldn’t win the league but we could win in Europe, like we did at Sevilla.”

Olympiacos began the season in the Europa League, but exited at the group stage and Mendilibar’s first game in charge was at the beginning of their Conference League run, a knockout-round playoff win over Ferencvaros. Now he is hoping to make history with the club.

“It would be amazing. We’d go down in Olympiacos and Greek football history,” the manager said.

“We know it’ll be very tough against an Italian side who compete at the top, but you never know in finals, they’re anyone’s game.”

Ayoub El Kaabi is the player Olympiacos will look to for goals. The Moroccan is the competition’s highest scorer this season despite his side not being involved at the group stage, netting 10 times in eight games.

A player Fiorentina fans will recognise is the Greek side’s forward Stevan Jovetic, who spent five seasons in Florence, and the Montenegrin could be sprung from the bench to break his former club’s hearts.

Olympiacos will be looking to repeat the success of their own youth team, who beat AC Milan last month to become the UEFA Youth League champions.

Fiorentina are no stranger to finals, and after losing two last season they will be desperate to put things right and lift a trophy for the first time since 2001.

Fiorentina, the first Italian club to win a European trophy when lifting the inaugural Cup Winners’ Cup in 1961, have yet to repeat that success.

They came close last season, losing the Conference League final 2-1 to West Ham United, conceding a 90th minute goal when the tie looked destined for extra-time.

“The only thing that’s different is that we’ve already experienced certain things,” Fiore­ntina manager Italiano Vincenzo told a press conference before Wednes­day’s final in Athens.

“We have a bit of experience, we carry that with us and tomorrow we have to show it. We can’t make any mistakes, we must stay alert and focused.

“Last year we didn’t have a good ending, we’ll bring that bitterness to make it end differently.”

Fiorentina have prepared for every eventuality in the game against Olympiacos, with Italiano joking that they had brought padlocks and chains to stop the Greek side’s top scorer El Kaabi.

They are also ready for a penalty shootout if required.

“We practiced penalties, because it could be a possibility,” Italiano said.

“We have a lot of players with the personality to convert them, we progressed through two rou­nds of the Coppa Italia on penalties, while in the league we missed some.”

Fiorentina, who also lost the Coppa Italia final last year, are unbeaten in Europe this season, but their captain Cristiano Biraghi knows they face a tough task, and they also want to win for their late general manager Joe Barone, who died in March.

“Between the first and second legs, they scored six goals against Aston Villa who finished fourth in the Premier League,” Biraghi told Reuters.

“We made a promise to Joe, now we hope to be able to honour it. What I can say is that we will put everything we have on the field to make that happen.”

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2024

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