Olympiacos have one foot into the UEFA Champions League group stage, after they crushed Russian side FC Krasnodar 4-0 in front of a sold-out crowd at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium on Wednesday night.
The red-and-whites displayed a high level of concentration while defending their positions, never allowing their skilled yet inexperienced opponents to get too close to their goal. They also made the most of their counter attacks.
Pedro Martins chose the same eleven players used over the last three games in the qualifiers against Viktoria Plzen and Istanbul Basaksehir, with Mathieu Valbuena taking charge of the game in midfield.
On the other hand, the Russian side was counting on the inspiration of former Panathinaikos forward Marcus Berg, who had experience scoring goals on that specific ground.
The game opened with the visitors having the upper hand. Krasnodar had the ball, yet they didn’t really do much with it as the home side closed them down nicely.
During the 11th minute, Brazilian winger Wanderson attempted a cross inside the area, yet it came off what appeared to be the body of Guillherme.
The Russians appealed for a penalty, yet referee Del Cero denied the request after checking with the VAR (in its inaugural use in this specific stadium). Misfortune struck for the visitors key midfielder Remy Cabella during the 26th minute of the game after he was injured in his attempt to put pressure on the Olympiacos defence.
He was eventually substituted for Swedish international Kristoffer Olsson. Four minutes later, the home side made the most of the confusion in their opponent’s squad, with Miguel Angel Guerrero picking up the ball nicely outside the box and putting a curling ball past goalkeeper Matvei Safonov.
The visiting team seemed to be in complete disarray, as Olympiacos continued to create chances up front with Daniel Podence and Valbuena, yet couldn’t find a second, with the single goal separating the two teams at the end of the first 45 minutes.
The image of the game carried into the second half, with Olympiacos waiting patiently in the back while Krasnodar was trying to find the gaps to exploit in their defence.
Pedro Martins’ players were in complete control of the rhythm, passing the ball around nicely and running the Russians around the pitch.
The visitors then brought in the star of their last game against FC Porto, Magomed Suleymanov, however he missed a great opportunity just as soon as he was brought in.
Marcus Berg had his own chance on the 67th minute, when he broke free of the Olympiacos defence but couldn’t find the target, with his shot going wide of Sa’s goal.
But Olympiacos had their own wonderkid on their bench and Martins was prepared to give him a chance.
On the 76th minute, Lazar Radjelovic came in to the pitch ready to make a difference for his team.
Just two minutes later, the young Serbian scored his first official goal for the club, after his team broke on the counter and Valbuena attempted a great through ball, finding the 22-year-old alone in the box.
As if that wasn’t enough, Radjelovic added a third on the 86th, firing from outside the area with goalkeeper Safonov being fooled by the direction of the ball.
The party had started for the Olympiacos fans in the stands and the cherry on top came from Daniel Podence, who chipped the ball on top of a helpless Safonov after a clever touch by Andreas Bouchalakis.
Of course the 4-0 result pits the red-and-whites as clear favourites for next week’s return game in Russia, with the club aiming to return to the Champions League group stage after last year’s absence.