Sollied looks for bright finale

With nothing left to shoot for in European club-level competition for yet another season, Olympiakos’s coach Trond Sollied said his team would strive to end this year’s Champions League campaign as best as possible with tonight’s final group-phase encounter against Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid in Athens. «I hope the end will be better than the beginning. I know that Real Madrid won’t be using its best players, but every single squad member is a good player. I’m not so sure if the absences will offer us an advantage,» Sollied said yesterday. Olympiakos lies last in Group F with a point from five games, without any hope of third place, which would have assured the Greek club a consolatory berth in the third round of the less prestigious UEFA Cup. Rosenborg, on four points, has secured third place, even if the teams end up on four points apiece following tonight’s games. The Norwegian club would advance on a better head-to-head record following a 3-1 victory in Athens and a 1-1 draw at home against Olympiakos. The group’s front-runner, Lyon, on 13 points, and second-placed Real Madrid, on 10 points, have already qualified for the Champions League’s next round of knockout competition reserved for 16 clubs. During yesterday’s news conference, Sollied, when asked to comment on the club’s performance in this season’s Champions League, commented: «We can’t change everything overnight. You’ve got to work hard on a daily basis and improve your performance step by step.» Sollied said his team’s failure to win any of its first five games was not a true reflection of his team’s level of play, while also hinting that a little more luck could have drifted Olympiakos’s way. «I think that we could say that our major problems were limited to the first half against Real Madrid [in Madrid]. We confronted all other opponents on equal terms and deserved more than what we got,» said Sollied. Following a shock opening-round 3-1 loss at home against Rosenborg, Olympiakos displayed character in its next two games, both tough away affairs against Real Madrid and Lyon. Real Madrid earned a tight 2-1 win at its Santiago Bernabeu Stadium with a late header from substitute Roberto Soldado that denied the valiant Greek club at least one point. It was a similar scenario in Olympiakos’s next game at Lyon, when a last-minute Sidney Govou goal gave the French club a 2-1 win that essentially ended Olympiakos’s campaign. At Real Madrid, the Spanish club’s latest coaching change has led critics to question whether the team has become more concerned with marketing and less interested in soccer. Vanderlei Luxemburgo, the team’s fifth coach in the past two-and-a-half years, was fired Sunday after 11 months in charge and no major titles. Real Madrid’s problems began when Vicente del Bosque was fired in June 2003, a day after Madrid won the league title for a record 29th time. President Florentino Perez said the team needed «modernizing.» Del Bosque also led the team to the last of its nine European titles in 2002. Mariano Garcia Remon, Jose Antonio Camacho, Carlos Queiroz and Luxemburgo have all coached Madrid since then but the club has not won another major trophy. This season, Madrid has won three of its last seven league games and is six points behind leader Barcelona in fourth place. The lackluster showing in a 1-0 win over Getafe on Saturday led Perez to act again. Juventus coach Fabio Capello, who guided Madrid to the league title in 1997, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, England’s Sven-Goran Eriksson and Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger have been mentioned as candidates to replace Luxemburgo. Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, who leads reserve team Real Madrid Castilla in the second division, was named as temporary coach. (Kathimerini, AP)