SPORTS

Olympiakos hopes to seal place in Champions League’s knock-out phase

Should all go as Olympiakos would like tonight, the Piraeus club will book its place in the Champions League’s next phase of knock-out competition, which is reserved for 16 sides. A win for Group A’s frontrunner against last-placed Deportivo La Coruna at home before a sold-out Karaiskaki Stadium crowd, coupled with group member Monaco’s failure to defeat Liverpool, would provide the Greek club with a coveted berth for just the second time in its history. Any other results will force Olympiakos to battle for qualification in its final group match against Liverpool at Anfield. Olympiakos has won both its previous home games in the Champions League this season, 1-0 victories against Monaco and Liverpool. Though last in their group, a win for the Spaniards would keep alive their slim Champions League hopes. They would also remain on track for third place and a consolation berth into the less prestigious UEFA Cup’s third round. After four rounds, Olympiakos, on seven points, shares top spot with Liverpool but has the advantage after winning their first encounter in Athens. Monaco lies third on six points and Deportivo is last on two points. In their previous encounter, Olympiakos left Deportivo La Coruna’s Riazor Stadium with a scoreless draw on the opening match day of this season’s Champions League. During yesterday’s pre-match news conference, Olympiakos coach Dusan Bajevic highlighted the encounter’s importance. «It’s a crucial game… we could get the job done, but we may also need to wait for the final match which would take on the proportions of making it even more important,» Bajevic said. «We need to play as we have until now in Europe. There’s no need for anxiety or fear,» he added. The coach did not name his team’s lineup. Olympiakos ‘keeper Antonis Nikopolidis toned down reporter remarks that likened tonight’s clash with a final. «It would have been like a final if this were the make-or-break game,» he said. Deportivo will go into tonight’s game with several injury problems. Despite an injury, striker Walter Pandiani was included on the squad by coach Javier Irureta. Three key players, strikers Diego Tristan and Victor Sanchez and defender Jorge Andrade will miss. Mauro Silva, the Spanish side’s 36-year-old Brazilian defender, highlighted his club’s problems. «It’s a difficult game. Key players are injured. A draw won’t be enough for us, as we would be mathematically disqualified from the competition’s next round,» the Brazilian said. Olympiakos has drawn all three previous meetings against Deportivo. The Spanish club will be playing its fifth game on Greek turf. Interestingly, in all its previous encounters, the club has emerged with 1-1 draws against Panathinaikos, twice; AEK and Olympiakos. Deportivo has failed to score in its last four European away games.