Olympiacos had too much quality for an under-strength AEK side on Sunday night, beating them 2-1 at the Olympic Stadium in Athens to preserve their unbeaten league record and mathematically clinch their 45th league title.
Youssef El Arabi opened the scoring with a superb, acrobatic volley on 38 minutes, and Mady Camara made it 2-0 with a slick first-time finish from Kostas Fortounis’ assist. Andreas Bouchalakis, who played a big part in the build-up to both goals, was a dominant force in midfield for Pedro Martins champions-elect.
AEK battled manfully but offered little in the way of scoring chances in the first-half, with Massimo Carrera’s men missing several key players and suffering as a result against the superior quality of their visitors from Piraeus.
AEK did step up their efforts in the second half, though, and pulled a goal back through Sergio Araujo from close range, before laying siege to the visitors’ goal in the closing stages but without getting an equalizer.
The win means Olympiacos are set to be crowned champions for the first time since 2017, pending the result of the CAS case between the club and PAOK.
This match was billed as the dress rehearsal of this year’s Greek Cup final which takes place next month after both teams came through dramatic semi-final match-ups on Wednesday.
This weekend though, it was all about the league. Olympiacos came into this fixture essentially as the champions-elect, though they still have to mathematically clinch the title and were looking for maximum points or at least to keep their season-long unbeaten league run intact.
AEK, meanwhile, began the match three points behind PAOK in what is turn out to be a real battle for second place. The Kitrinomavri will meet PAOK during midweek action and were hoping to come away with a positive result against Olympiacos to set them up nicely for that clash.
Chances were sparse in the early stages of the match as an under-strength AEK side without the likes of captain Petros Mantalos, midfielder Andre Simoes, defender Michalis Bakakis and goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas, tried to contain the in-form visitors.
Olympiacos began to look lively as the game wore on, and they came close to scoring twice in the space of five minutes. First on 14 minutes when El Arabi headed narrowly wide from a superb Fortounis cross, and then again on 19 minutes when Omar combined with Fortounis who fired in a shot which cannonced off the crossbar.
AEK threatened only fleetingly with Marko Livaja the main threat. The Croatian got himself into good positions on two occasions but his efforts were quickly snuffed out by the visitors defence on both chances.
Then towards the end of the half Olympiacos once again stepped on the gas and got themselves in front in the 38th minute. Bouchalakis sent Giorgos Masouras rampaging down the left with an exquisite slide-rule pass, and the Olmypiacos winger sent over a perfect cross which El Arabi met to volley past Panagiotis Tsintotas with aplomb at full stretch.
That goal seemed to break AEK’s early battling spirit, and it was soon 2-0 when once again the industrious Bouchalakis broke up play in midfield and played Fortounis in down the right channel. The Greece midfielder squared the ball low across the penalty area and Kamara came steaming in to slot the ball past a helpless Tsintotas.
The visitors were in complete control at that point and it seemed that there would be no way back for the Kitrinomavri.
To their credit, however, AEK came out in the second half and gave their all to try and turn the match around, with Livaja again the central figure.
The Croatian surged past Kostas Tsimikas early in the second period only to see his cross blocked by Omar, and then four minutes after the hour mark he played in Niklas Hult for AEK’s best chance up to that point, but the Swede’s shot was saved brilliantly by Jose Sa in the Olympiacos goal.
AEK’s pressing finally paid off in the 66th minute and it was Araujo who got himself on the scoresheet. The diminutive Argentine forward scoring at the second attempt from close range after his original header had been parried onto the woodwork by Sa.
That goal gave AEK a new lease of life and they almost levelled matters a minute later but Marios Oikonomou’s prodded effort from close range was off target after a good cross from Livaja.
AEK: 16 Tsintotas (Gk), 23 Hult, 24 Svarnas, 19 Chygrynskyy, 27 Paulinho, 6 Krsticic, 5 Szymanski, 10 Livaja, 7 Verde, 14 Albanis, 11 Araujo
Olympiacos: 1 Sa (Gk), 21 Tsimikas, 24 Ba, 3 Semedo, 14 Elabdellaoui, 5 Bouhalakis, 4 Camara, 8 Guilherme, 19 Masouras, 11 El Arabi, 7 Fortounis
by Graham Wood
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*Image credit: Olympiacos FC