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Following their pulsating derby at the weekend, AEK Athens and Olympiacos both returned to European action.
Reigning Greek champions Olympiacos aimed to get back on track in Turin, while AEK looked to extend their superb winning streak. First up – Olympiacos against Juventus in the Champions League, a game which promised to be an uphill challenge for the Greeks.
Firing your head coach isn’t the best way to prepare for a huge game. After losing to AEK in dramatic circumstances, Olympiacos gave boss Besnik Hasi the boot.
The experienced Takis Lemonis was drafted in for a replacement, a coach who had actually guided Olympiacos to the league title in June this year. The change does appear rather comical, but it was certainly required.
Olympiacos had been accused of playing with no character recently, picking up a string of poor results which included a matchday one defeat to Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League. No one really believed in Olympiacos achieving a positive result in Italy, but fans demanded a much-improved display.
Nevertheless, Olympiacos didn’t look like a team in the middle of a crisis. The Greeks put in a solid first half performance against the 2017 Champions League finalists, restricting Juventus to only a few clear-cut opportunities.
Nigerian forward Emmanuel Emenike had a glorious chance on the counter for Olympiacos, but instead of shooting, he made a pass which came to nothing. A miss which Olympiacos would eventually regret.
Juventus turned up the heat in the second half, testing stand-in goalkeeper Silvio Proto on a regular basis. In the end, Olympiacos’ stubborn resistance was broken.
Substitute Gonzalo Higuain wriggled free in the box, Dimitris Nikolaou blocked his first shot, but the Juventus striker reacted quickest to steer the rebound into the net. Mario Mandzukic then bundled the ball in from close range on 80 minutes, in turn finishing the match as a contest.
However, despite Olympiacos’ loss, the match has increased optimism among their faithful supporters. Yes, the team failed to come back with any points, but the players finally showed some heart on the pitch. Something which serves as a good omen for the future.
Riding on the crest of a wave
On the other hand, AEK were riding on the crest of a wave. Since their Champions League qualifier loss to CSKA Moscow in August, the Athenians have not felt the bitter taste of defeat.
They sit two points clear in top spot of the Greek Super League, and they also won their first Europa League group match against Rijeka. Austria Vienna were AEK’s opponents in the second Europa fixture, with AEK focused on continuing their impressive form.
Playing at home in Athens, AEK predictably took the initiative. The deadlock was broken in bizarre fashion, as an Austrian defender smacked his clearance into Marko Livaja’s chest before the ball bounced over the line.
AEK were in control, but Austria Vienna struck back in the dying embers of the first half. The home team went missing in defence, allowing Christoph Monschein to slide in from close range.
Austria Vienna completed the turnaround early in the second half. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi curled in a gorgeous effort beyond the outstretched palms of Giannis Anestis, giving the visitors a first lead.
AEK weren’t willing to go down without a fight though, and they began to lay siege to the Austrian goal. Goalkeeper Patrick Pentz was a hero for the visitors, pulling off nine fantastic saves between the sticks.
The home side were getting frustrated, but just as it seemed that Austria would hold out, AEK broke their hearts. Sergio Araujo found space on the left flank, lashed a pass across goal, and Marko Livaja was on hand to tap into the empty net.
A 90th minute salvation goal for the hosts, who simply never know when they are beaten. That well-earned point leaves AEK second in the group, just two points behind leaders AC Milan and three ahead of Austria Vienna.
AEK travel to Milan for the next Europa League match, a game which will be a true test of AEK’s character.
Back to domestic affairs
For now, Olympiacos and AEK switch their attentions on to Super League matters.
Olympiacos host Atromitos Athinon in Piraeus, however AEK are faced with a tricky away fixture against Asteras Tripolis. Both games will take place on Sunday.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93
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