Olympiakos thought they had made the last 16 of the Champions League thanks to a 3-1 home win over Arsenal in Athens on Tuesday but a late twist meant the Greeks had to settle for third place in Group F and a spot in the Europa League.
A late winner for Marseille against Borussia Dortmund in the other Group F game meant that the Greeks had to settle for third place on nine points, one behind the French. Arsenal had secured top spot in the group with 11 points before Tuesday?s game.
?We?re out of the Champions League but we?re proud of the way we played today,? said Valverde. The Spaniard, as well as visiting manager Arsene Wenger, identified Olympiakos?s first group game, which ended in a 1-0 home defeat to Marseille, as the main reason the Greeks failed to clinch a rare qualification to the last 16. Olympiakos had not played a competitive game before facing the French champions as the Greek league had not started.
?Our first defeat at home to Marseille cost us a lot,? said Valverde. ?Football is about doing the right things at the right time.?
After a bright opening by both sides, Olympiakos took the lead in the 16th minute when the Arsenal defence failed to cut out a through ball from David Fuster. Rafik Djebbor latched on to the pass and rounded Lukasz Fabianski in the Arsenal goal to stroke the ball into the net.
Fabianski was injured a few minutes later in a collision with Djebbour. Vito Mannone took over in goal but was soon picking the ball out of the net after his failed clearance in the 36th minute landed at the feet of Fuster whose weak shot trickled over the line.
Arsenal reduced the arrears in the second half when Marouane Chamakh chested the ball down for Yossi Benayoun to fire in a volley in the 57th minute. The under-strength Londoners were unable to find a second goal against the injury-ravaged Greeks and Olympiakos clinched a third in the 89th minute when Francois Modesto scrambled home from a corner.
?Despite losing our first two games, we managed to push for qualification right up to the last game, so that?s a success for us,? said Valverde. ?Now we?ll see how far we can go in the Europa League.?