SPORTS

Atletico eyes last 16 berth against Olympiakos

Greek champion Olympiakos faces a tough task if it is to prevent last season’s beaten finalist Atletico Madrid sealing its passage into the last 16 of the Champions League at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday.

Olympiakos hasn’t played a competitive game since thrashing Panthrakikos 5-1 on November 9 as the Greek league was suspended last weekend following a violent attack on a senior official of the country’s referee board.

Michel’s men have a realistic chance of reaching the last 16 for a second consecutive year as they are tied with Juventus on six points in second place in Group A, three behind Atletico with two games to play.

Olympiakos shocked Diego Simeone’s men with a 3-2 win at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in September, but the Spanish champions have reeled off three straight victories without even conceding a goal since to put themselves in pole position to progress.

The root of that revival was back-to-back victories over Juventus and Malmo in Madrid before they rode their luck in winning 2-0 in Sweden last time out.

Indeed, Atletico has won seven and drawn one of its eight home Champions League games since returning to the competition for the first time in four years last season and stretched its unbeaten home run in the league to 26 games with a 3-1 win over Malaga on Saturday.

“We know that we had three games at home coming up and now we have won the first one against Malaga, which is important because it was a difficult game,» defender Diego Godin said on Monday.

“We are going well in the league, we are where we want to be and now we have a final on Wednesday in our stadium and with our fans behind us.

“It is important to take advantage of our strength at home, but just because we are playing at home doesn’t mean we will definitely win. We need to keep fighting.”

Godin will be partnered in central defence once more by young compatriot Jose Gimenez as Miranda remains sidelined with a thigh injury picked up whilst on international duty with Brazil.

However, he is the only absentee from Simeone’s squad as Mario Mandzukic has shrugged off the shoulder injury that forced him off against Malaga, whilst Guilherme Siqueira and Mario Suarez return after being suspended at the weekend.

Olympiakos will bring two familiar faces to the Spanish capital in the form of coach Michel, who faced Atletico 25 times during a 12-year playing career with Real Madrid, and goalkeeper Roberto, who began his career with Los Rojiblancos.

Yet, despite failing to get a prolonged run in the team during two spells at the Calderon, Roberto insists revenge will not be at the forefront of his mind on Wednesday.

“I spent nine years there and they made me what I am. It is a place where I grew, learned the values of soccer, about the position of a goalkeeper and the profession,» he said.

“On a personal level victory would mean a lot, but it wouldn’t be revenge because it is a club that I have in my heart.”

[AFP]