Olympiakos gives hapless Bayer Leverkusen a big headache

Olympiakos’s excellent performance in Wednesday’s 6-2 thrashing of German club Bayer Leverkusen, in its opening Champions League match, was acknowledged even by its most fanatical opponents. «At last! Olympiakos played in a European competition like Panathinaikos usually does,» said sports daily Derby, a pro-Panathinaikos rag. Even though it has dominated domestic soccer, Olympiakos has a much less distinguished record in Europe than Panathinaikos, once a runner-up and twice a semifinalist in the top European competition. At present, however, Panathinaikos languishes in last place in the Greek League, with three defeats in as many games, and has not even qualified for the Champions League competition. Yesterday, it defeated Bulgaria’s Litex Lovech 1-0 in a match for the first round of the UEFA Cup. Wednesday was clearly Olympiakos’s day. Before the match, a victory against last season’s Champions League runner-up was an uncertain thing at best. In the end, Bayer Leverkusen was lucky to escape with only six goals scored against it. There was no indication early on of the rout to come, as Leverkusen was given the lead after 22 minutes when Olympiakos goalkeeper Dimitris Eleftheropoulos scooped a Bernd Schneider cross into his own goal. The blunder seemed to galvanize the hosts who attacked in numbers for the first time. Giovanni headed the equalizer from a corner five minutes later. Intense pressure from Olympiakos earned it the lead with a close-range strike by Stelios Giannakopoulos after 38 minutes. Predrag Djordjevic made it 3-1 after 44 minutes from close range after a pinpoint Christos Patsatzoglou cross. Djordjevic added another from the penalty spot after 63 minutes, but he saved the best till last with an excellent individual effort in the 73rd minute topped off with a right-foot finish. Leverkusen snatched a consolation goal from the penalty spot through Bernd Schneider in the 78th minute, but Olympiakos continued to push for more goals, creating chances at will. Swedish international Par Zetterberg topped off a fantastic night for Olympiakos with a sweetly placed free kick four minutes from time. Substitute Alexis Alexandris nearly made it 7-2, but his shot hit the post. (Combined reports)