SPORTS

One point gained, two missed

Though little hope now remains for Olympiakos to make it past the Champions League’s group stage, which was the Greek soccer champion’s main objective for this season, Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw against Roma in Italy puts the Piraeus club in the driver’s seat for third place and a UEFA Cup berth as consolation. Group D’s front runner Valencia, on 10 points from four games, has already assured its berth for the next round. The Spanish club dropped its first points Tuesday night with a 2-2 away draw against Shakhtar. Second-place Roma, on seven points, five ahead of Olympiakos and Shakhtar with two games remaining, has virtually assured its pace in the next round too. It would have now been a worrisome situation for the Italian team had it not come back from a goal down to share the points with Olympiakos on Tuesday. The five-point gap separating the two clubs would have been just two, but as things turned out, Olympiakos, winner of nine of the last 10 domestic league titles, is unlikely to make the lucrative Champions League’s next stage. Norwegian coach Trond Sollied was hired at the beginning of last season, on a two-year contract, in a bid to help fortify Olympiakos in Europe. Despite a courageous effort by his team in the group stage last season, which included late-goal defeats against two powerhouse clubs, Monaco and Real Madrid, Olympiakos was unable to make it through. This season, Olympiakos’s campaign got off to a disastrous start with a 4-2 loss at home against Valencia. The Piraeus team showed improvement in its following games, but was unable to secure the needed points. Following its whipping session by the Spaniards, Olympiakos found itself ahead twice against Shakhtar, but squandered its lead twice for a final 2-2 score. Then, a 1-0 loss at home against Roma more or less ended the Greek team’s European aspirations for yet another season. Playing in Italy on Tuesday, Olympiakos, which has never won an away match in the Champions League after 29 attempts, went ahead after 19 minutes when Rivaldo curled in a corner for Julio Cesar to head in. The goal, which came as a reward for the visiting team’s lively start to the game, spurred on Roma, which until then had seemed content to allow Olympiakos to keep possession, provided its players didn’t get too close to the area. Roma pressed forward and was unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when defender Michal Zewlakow used a hand to deflect Max Tonetto’s shot away from Olympiakos’s goal. Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca got a better view of the action shortly after the halfhour mark, however, when he gave Roma a penalty for Julio Cesar’s clumsy challenge on Taddei. Totti stepped up to the spot, but Antonis Nikopolidis reacted well to turn his effort round the post. Roma maintained the pressure after the interval. Second-half substitute Simone Perrotta put the ball in Olympiakos’s net, but the Italy midfielder was fractionally offside. In the end it was Totti who grabbed the equalizer in the 66th minute to make up for his missed penalty. Taddei floated the ball into the area, the Roma captain brought it down, turned his marker, and angled a shot past Nikopolidis. Roma continued to create more chances without ever really dominating the contest – their best chance to win the match coming in the 76th minute, when playmaker David Pizarro fired in a low shot from the edge of the area that Nikopolidis saved. Olympiakos travels to Spain for its next game, against Valencia, before playing its final group game at home, against Shakhtar. A win here would guarantee Olympiakos Group D’s third spot and an UEFA Cup berth. (Kathimerini, Reuters)