• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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UEFA Europa Conference League: Olympiacos secure historic win over Fiorentina


Olympiacos made history by becoming the first Greek club to win a European title after defeating Fiorentina 1-0 after extra time in the UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) final on Wednesday night at the OPAP Arena in Athens.

The decisive moment came in the 116th minute when Moroccan striker Ayoub El Kaabi scored the winning goal, allowing Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side to celebrate a landmark victory at the home of their local rivals, AEK Athens.

Before Olympiacos’ triumph, Panathinaikos was the only Greek club to reach a European final, having lost to a Johan Cruyff-inspired Ajax in the 1971 European Cup final.

The match began with high intensity, as Daniel Podence forced a fine save from Fiorentina goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano. Andrea Belotti, on the other end, missed a good opportunity.

Fiorentina had taken the lead in the ninth minute, but Nikola Milenkovic was flagged for offside when he turned a cross past Olympiacos’ goalkeeper Konstantinos Tzolakis.

Tzolakis was crucial for Olympiacos, making a key save at the feet of Giacomo Bonaventura and watching as Nicolas Gonzalez mistimed a volley, giving Fiorentina the better chances in the first half.

Opportunities were scarce in the second half, but Tzolakis again came to Olympiacos’ rescue in the 69th minute, leaping backwards to palm away a scuffed effort from Christian Kouame.

Olympiacos veteran Vicente Iborra nearly scored with a header from a free-kick that went just wide of the Fiorentina goal in the final 10 minutes of regulation time, but the match eventually headed into extra time.

Four minutes into extra time, Olympiacos appealed for a penalty, but the defender’s arm was deemed to be in a natural position when Stevan Jovetic’s cross struck it.

Jovetic, a former Fiorentina player, came off the Olympiacos bench and forced a good save from Terracciano with a curling 20-yard strike, briefly igniting the match.

However, both teams tightened up, seemingly cautious to avoid a mistake that could cost them the title. Penalties seemed imminent until El Kaabi headed home Santiago Hezze’s cross in the 116th minute, marking his 16th goal in European competition this season.

The Greek fans erupted when El Kaabi’s goal was confirmed after a lengthy VAR check, highlighting the significance of the victory for Olympiacos.

“Amazing. For Olympiacos and me. Really proud of my guys. We did great all year and deserved it,” Jovetic told TNT Sports, adding that the celebrations in Olympiacos’ hometown of Athens “will be amazing.”

For Fiorentina, it was a second consecutive UEFA Europa Conference League final defeat, following their 2-1 loss to West Ham in 2023 after Jarrod Bowen’s 90th-minute winner.