Olympiakos hopes for more

Olympiakos, which has dominated the Greek domestic soccer championship for a decade, is eager to make more than a fleeting impression in this season’s Champions League. The Piraeus club greets Valencia tonight in an opening Group C game. Greek champions in nine of the last 10 years, Olympiakos has a poor record in Europe’s elite competition, making it past the group stage just once in nine attempts. Some fans of the team’s Athens rivals Panathinaikos who never fail to remind Olympiakos that they reached the final in 1971, talk of a curse on the side. They, like their rivals AEK, who are also in this season’s competition, would love nothing better than to ram that claim down the throats of Panathinaikos fans by reaching this season’s final, being played in Athens. That is unlikely, but getting past the group stage would be something of an achievement. Old history and jibes, of course, mean little to Norwegian coach Trond Sollied who should be encouraged by a draw placing his side in Group C alongside AS Roma, Valencia and Shakhtar Donetsk. At a news conference yesterday, he described the group as open for all. «All teams are capable of winning all games. I told my players that we could finish first, even last,» said Sollied. «We’re going to try and improve on last year. Our aim is to still be playing in Europe after the winter.»  The key players at Olympiakos are Predrag Djordjevic and Rivaldo, both still with plenty to offer at the age of 34. Djordjevic, who played for Serbia-Montenegro in the 2006 World Cup, remains a big influence down the left, while Rivaldo, a World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002 and playing his final season in Greece, seems to relish the Champions League’s big stage. Yaya Toure’s departure for Monaco leaves a hole in the midfield although the recruitment of another Brazilian international, Julio Cesar, as well as the Moroccan Abdeslam Ouaddou and Frenchman Didier Domi, should help shore up a defense that was sometimes made to look old and slow last year. The emergence this season of 22-year-old Uruguayan Nery Alberto Castillo may surprise a number of opponents. Castillo has been at the club since he was 16 and has had limited opportunities. A regular starter this season, he is the Greek Super League’s top scorer with four goals after three rounds. Meanwhile, in domestic Super League play late Sunday, Ergotelis defeated visiting Panionios 2-1. (Reuters, Kathimerini)