European aspirations over

“Oh well, back to the Greek league against [lowly] sides like Akratitos and Panachaiki,» disappointed Olympiakos fans murmured on their way out of Rizoupoli Stadium in Athens following Wednesday’s humiliating 3-3 draw against Maccabi Haifa. The result of this final first-phase Champions League game ended the Greek side’s slim hopes of a UEFA Cup berth as consolation. A win by a three-goal margin was needed for Group F’s third place, and the berth, but two early goals from the Israelis blitzed the home side’s already slender hopes. Olympiakos, Greece’s league champion for six successive seasons now, again bid an early farewell from European competition, paying the price for serious administrative mistakes. Having just hired a new coach, Slovenian Srecko Katanec, who debuted in Europe on Wednesday, management seems to have have made a promising choice for the team’s helm, one that could rake in a seventh successive Greek league title. But as regards higher-level objectives, the signing was belated and won’t alter Olympiakos’s ill-fated course in Europe for another season. Olympiakos was led by three different coaches in the Champions League’s first phase; Takis Lemonis, who was fired, his temporary replacement Yiannis Kollias, and Katanec – a fact that confirms the team’s ailing state. Bad planning during the pre-season signing period had also been detected last summer. Reinforcements were needed in defense and attack, but management opted for a goalie instead. Numbers alone reflect the team’s woeful state in defense. In six Champions League games this season, Olympiakos conceded an average of almost three goals per game, the competition’s second-worst record. The last time the side kept a clean sheet in the competition dates back to October 2000. Also, the mere four points accumulated, for last place, ranks as the club’s worst-effort ever in the Champions League.

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