European run ends at Chelsea

Olympiakos may have tumbled out of the Champions League’s Round of 16 after being thrashed 3-0 by star-studded Chelsea in London on Wednesday night, but the Piraeus team can consider its campaign in Europe this season a major improvement on previous efforts. In comments following the encounter at Stamford Bridge, Olympiakos coach Takis Lemonis stressed the need to keep building on this season’s progress. On its way to the Round of 16, Olympiakos picked up an impressive 11 points from its six Group C games with wins against Werder Bremen both at home and away, Lazio in Rome, and two draws at home, against the Italian team and Real Madrid. There was just one defeat, 4-2, at Real Madrid. Following years of mostly poor Champions League outings, the Piraeus team did earn some respect in Europe this season, but it remains distinctly below the level of the continent’s best. Olympiakos was unable to keep up with the flow and panache of Chelsea’s game. An early Michael Ballack header in the fifth minute put Chelsea ahead – following a scoreless draw at the Karaiskaki Stadium. Olympiakos had fallen behind in all three of its group-stage away games and went on to win two of those, but there was no reaction from the Greek club on Wednesday night. The visitors never settled into the game and were never able to establish serious ball possession. By the 25th minute, Chelsea had already taken a major step toward reaching the quarterfinals with a second goal from Frank Lampard. He tapped the ball in after goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis, who played a fine game on his Greek record-breaking 53rd Champions League appearance, was unable to hold on to a powerful drive from Ballack. Chelsea sealed its place in the next round three minutes into the second half when Salomon Kalou made it 3-0 from a Lampard corner. While all hope of a quarterfinal spot for Olympiakos was lost in London, a tribunal in Athens awarded the Piraeus team three points from a domestic league game it had lost against struggling Apollon Kalamaria. Olympiakos filed an appeal, arguing that its opponent had illegally fielded new Austrian signing Roman Wallner, who had already represented two other clubs this season. Besides losing the three points, Apollon was punished with the deduction of an additional point. But the club, which sunk deeper into the league’s three-team relegation zone, declared it will appeal at an international sports tribunal. Olympiakos moved up to second, a point behind Panathinaikos, with seven rounds of play remaining. In other news, the Super League’s disciplinary committee handed PAOK midfielder Sergio Conceicao a one-match suspension and an 80-euro fine for a scuffle with Nikopolidis, Olympi-akos’s goalkeeper, in the tunnel following a recent game in Thessaloniki. The Portuguese player was due to appear before the panel last week but encountered problems with a flight to Athens from Thessaloniki. Nikopolidis, who received the exact same punishment, has already served his suspension. Meanwhile at AEK, currently third in the domestic league, club boss Demis Nikolaidis told reporters that no move for a new coach would be made until the end of the season.

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