Group rivals look to rebound

Meeting for the very first time, OIympiakos and Shakhtar Donetsk go into tonight’s encounter in Ukraine both eager for points following heavy losses in the opening round of Champions League group play a fortnight ago. Competing in the lucrative competition’s Group D, both clubs conceded four goals apiece in their opening games. Both also crumbled late in their respective first-round efforts. Olympiakos went down 4-2 at home to Valencia after the Spaniards struck twice in the final fine minutes. Shakhtar, a 4-0 loser against AS Roma in Italy, conceded the first of the four goals well into the second half, with 23 minutes of regular time remaining. Olympiakos coach Trond Sollied, responding to a question at a news conference yesterday, described Group D as entirely open for all. «An answer can’t be provided for this [group standings] until at least the third round of play,» said Sollied. «We can also live with a draw. We’re going to have to play in an organized fashion, be clever and capitalize on opportunities,» the Norwegian coach added. Sollied said his team’s Brazilian star Rivaldo had not been ruled out because of injury. «If we’ve taken him with us, it means that there is still hope he will play,» said Sollied. Moroccan defender Abdeslam Ouaddou was ruled out yesterday after failing to fully recover from a slight knee injury incurred last weekend during Olympiakos’s 1-0 home win over AEK. Ouaddou joins three teammates on the squad’s injury list: the defenders Erol Bulut and Michal Zewlakow, as well as key midfielder Pantelis Kafes, all ruled unfit for tonight’s game in Ukraine. Dominant in domestic competition with nine of the past 10 league titles going to the Piraeus club, Olympiakos has failed, during this period, to make impact in the Champions League. The Greek club reached the quarter finals in 1999, but has failed to carry on beyond the group stage on all other occasions. In its previous Champions League outings, Shakhtar has captured third place in its group twice, in 2000-01 and 2004-05. The Greek champion will need to defy the odds of a poor away record in the Champions League for victory tonight. Since the 1997-98 season, Olympiakos has not won a single game away from home and lost 21 of 28 games played. The Ukrainian champions have stood firmly at home with four wins from six Champions League encounters. Shakhtar’s only previous meeting with a Greek team came in last season’s UEFA Cup group stage, a 1-0 home victory against PAOK. Against previous Ukrainian competition, Olympiakos was knocked out of the European Cup in the 1975-76 season by Dynamo Kiev with a 3-2 aggregate score. In 1992, the Greek team overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit with a 3-0 triumph at Chornomorets Odessa in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup first round.