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Against the odds in Rome

Olympiakos goes into its latest Champions League clash tonight against AS Roma in Italy without a single away victory in the competition after 29 attempts. A loss for Olympiakos tonight will mean the mathematical end of the club’s chances of reaching the lucrative competition’s next stage, a feat accomplished just once by the Piraeus club. If the Greek team does bow out, it will be its eighth successive exit at this stage of the competition. Judging by this poor track record, the odds will be against Olympiakos, which has dominated domestic soccer over the past decade but made little impact in the Champions League. This season has been no exception. Olympiakos lies equal last in Group D with just one point from three games, five points behind second-place Roma. Valencia leads with a perfect record of nine points from its three games. Olympiakos coach Trond Sollied, hired by the Greek club’s administration at the beginning of last season with greater success in European club soccer in mind, recently admitted that the Greek league was levels below the continent’s leading domestic leagues. His predecessor, Dusan Bajevic, who ranks as Greek soccer’s most successful coach with titles at AEK, Olympiakos and PAOK, was ousted after club officials and a considerable number of fans all agreed that he lacked what was needed to lead the proud and historic Greek club in the Champions League. Sollied will be without star striker Nery Castillo, sidelined by a bout of the flu. Roma coach Luciano Spalletti’s side should be full of confidence following its 1-0 victory at Olympiakos’s Karaiskaki Stadium on October 18. Roma will be sure to reach the competition’s next stage provided the club wins tonight and Shakhtar, equal last with Olympiakos, fails to beat Valencia. Olympiakos has won just four of 17 games against Italian clubs. The Greek club’s previous eight visits to Italy have produced two victories and six defeats, the most recent trip proving to be one of the biggest horror stories in Olympiakos’s history following a 7-0 loss at Juventus in the 2003-2004 Champions League’s group stage. A few seasons earlier, Olympiakos, competing in the UEFA Cup in the 1999-2000 season, had managed to defeat Juventus in Italy with a 2-1 score, but it was not enough to overcome a 3-1 defeat at home in the tie’s first leg. Roma, it should be noted, are unbeaten in their five previous matches against Greek clubs.