Olympiakos faces tricky UEFA Cup trips

Olympiakos has been handed a tougher-than-expected UEFA Cup group but still has strong hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages. The Reds were in the second pot of seedings on the basis of their European record, but yesterday’s draw was rather unkind to them as they will have to face opposition from Portugal, Germany and Turkey. The group is so complicated that four of its five teams have realistic chances of proceeding to the next stage. The Greek champion will have to travel to Istanbul to face Galatasaray and to Kharkiv in Ukraine to face unheralded Metalist, both tricky games for coach Ernesto Valverde’s men. In fact the Reds kick off the group stage with their trip to the inhospitable Ali Sami Yen Stadium in Turkey on October 23. At the Karaiskaki Stadium, Olympiakos will host Benfica and Hertha Berlin, two teams that are not exactly giants but are capable of getting the result they need on the day. The top three of each group advance to the round of 32. If Olympiakos wins its two home ties it should make the next stage. Valverde said after the draw that it had not been a good one for Olympiakos: «No game will be easy. We have to face four very good teams. Even Metalist, which many people will underestimate, has eliminated Besiktas.» Asked which game will be the key one, the Basque manager said: «The most important thing is to start with a win in the opening game. This year’s UEFA Cup has quality… We will try to secure first place in our group, just like every other team.» The top club in each group will face the third of another group in the next stage, having the second leg at home in the home-and-away tie. Top of table Olympiakos is coming from a triumphant Super League derby with AEK, after enjoying an emphatic 2-0 win at the Karaiskaki Stadium on Sunday night. The result, courtesy of two second-half goals by Darko Kovacevic and Diogo, has given the Reds a two-point lead at the top of the table as PAOK, now in second place, drew with Ergotelis in Crete (0-0). In the other late match on Sunday, Panthrakikos beat Panionios 1-0 for its first ever win in the top flight. Olympiakos skipper Predrag Djordjevic underwent treatment to his knee yesterday and will remain out of action for the next three to four weeks.