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Olympiakos held in cup clash at home

Olympiakos will need to work hard to defend its Greek Cup title following yesterday’s 1-1 draw at home against Xanthi in a first-leg quarterfinal game. The two teams meet again next Thursday in the tie’s second leg. Playing lackluster soccer before empty stands at its Karaiskaki Stadium because of sanctions for fan violence, Olympiakos managed to take the lead in the encounter’s 20th minute with a perfectly struck free kick from Brazilian Rivaldo. Other than that, though, the home side did very little else up front to extend its lead for a stronger standing when the two clubs meet again for the return leg. Provincial Xanthi, an early front-runner in league competition, dominated play and threatened to equalize on several occasions. The visitor did so late in the game, in the 86th minute, when striker Stavros Labriakos connected with a header from the right to beat Olympiakos keeper Antonis Nikopolidis. The visitor could have made it 2-1 five minutes later, in the first minute of injury time, had midfielder Alexis Garpozis been able to get his foot to a dangerous low cross. Xanthi came close to scoring on several more occasions. In the 62nd minute, when trailing 1-0, the visitor failed to capitalize on an almost-costly error by keeper Nikopolidis, who fed Labriakos in the goalmouth. But the Xanthi striker shot over the horizontal bar. In his post-match comments, Olympiakos coach Trond Sollied said his team played a satisfactory first half but waned during the rest of the game. He also added that, considering the first leg’s result, Xanthi would have to be rated the favorite for a semifinal place. Playing before empty stands, Sollied said, affected his team’s performance. «We’re not satisfied with the 1-1 result, but there’s a second game to be played. It’s difficult to play without your fans. We’re waiting for the next game,» Sollied noted. «Considering the final 1-1 score, you could say that Xanthi is the favorite… We’ve got to be more effective in the return leg. We’ve got to score more goals from our opportunities,» he added. Olympiakos was sanctioned for fan misbehavior at its most recent league home game, against archrival Panathinaikos. Xanthi coach Yiannis Matzourakis, whose team has struggled to get results in recent weeks following an impressive start this season, spoke of his team’s missed opportunity to head home victorious. He disagreed with Sollied about Xanthi going into the return leg as the favorite for a semifinal place. «The team worked well, and we had clear-cut chances. If we want to carry on, we’re going to have to take the second game more seriously and better prepared. Coming to this game, we felt a bit inhibited,» said Matzourakis. Olympiakos midfielder Haruna Babagida contended that his side dominated the game’s first half, while noting that he and his teammates missed their fans. «We were better in the first half but came out feeling tired in the second half. We missed our fans. I believe that we can manage in the return leg,» said Babagida. Xanthi’s goal scorer, Labriakos, spoke of his team’s subdued form in more recent times. «We went into the game from a bad spell and negative results. The second game is going to be of equal importance and, perhaps, more difficult,» Labriakos commented. In the remaining first-leg quarterfinal cup game, second-division club Niki Volos hosts AEK on February 7. The game, scheduled for earlier this week, was postponed due to weather-related poor pitch conditions. Larissa holds a 1-0 lead over Akratitos. Ethnikos Asteras and Agrotikos Asteras, from the second and third divisions respectively, are tied at 1-1. The second legs of both encounters are scheduled for February 8.