Olympiakos make history by reaching Europa Conference League final

Olympiakos will face Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final after making history with their 2-0 win against Aston Villa in Thursday’s semi-final second leg.

Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side clinched a 6-2 aggregate triumph thanks to a double from Villa’s chief tormentor Ayoub El Kaabi, who hit a hat-trick in the first leg.

On a raucous night at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus, Olympiakos, champions of Greece a record 47 times, booked their first appearance in a major European final.

The only other Greek club to reach a European final were Panathinaikos, who were beaten by Ajax in the 1971 European Cup final.

Adding to the sense of destiny for Olympiakos, they will face Italian side Fiorentina on May 29 at the AEK Arena, home of one of their local rivals and just 10 miles across Athens from their own stadium.

Mendilibar only took charge in February, but the Spaniard — sacked by Sevilla in October — has already made himself an Olympiakos icon by masterminding a monumental achievement for Greek football.

Owned by Evangelos Marinakis, who also runs Premier League strugglers Nottingham Forest, Olympiakos had failed to get out of the group stage 14 times in 16 attempts in Europe before this season.

If Olympiakos can lift the first European trophy in their 99-year history, it would be a feat to rival Greece’s shock Euro 2004 triumph.

It is shaping up to be a golden year for Olympiakos, whose Under-19 team won the UEFA Youth League final against AC Milan in April.

After losing last season’s Europa Conference League final against West Ham, Fiorentina booked their return to the showpiece by defeating Club Brugge 4-3 on aggregate in the other semi-final on Wednesday.

– Relentless Olympiakos –

Villa’s exit was a painful conclusion to their bid to reach a first European final since 1982.

Competing in Europe after a 13-year absence, Villa must recover from this blow to refocus on their attempt to qualify for next season’s Champions League via a top four finish in the Premier League.

Unai Emery’s fourth-placed side are seven points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham, who have three games left compared to Villa’s two.

“Olympiakos deserve to be in the final. We lost it in the first 90 minutes at home. We started well this time, but they scored and we were not clinical,” Emery said.

“These are great experiences for us but it’s difficult to win in these competitions, whether it is the Champions League or Conference League.

“We are a little bit frustrated but we have two games left to get the fourth position, which is amazing motivation.”

Olympiakos’s Chiquinho had an early sight of goal after evading the Villa defence, but the midfielder shot wide with a hurried effort.

It was a warning Villa failed to heed as Olympiakos carved open the visitors to take the lead in the 10th minute.

Daniel Podence, on loan from Wolves, picked out David Carmo’s overlapping run and his low cross reached the unmarked El Kaabi, who stretched to poke past Emiliano Martinez from close range.

Villa were out of sync and their spluttering start was encapsulated by Leon Bailey who slipped when he lined up a shot that trickled weakly to Olympiakos keeper Kostas Tzolakis.

Tzolakis made a superb save to repel Bailey’s fierce strike with an agile tip over on the stroke of half-time.

But with the tie firmly in their hands, Olympiakos pressed relentlessly and defended in droves to keep Villa at bay.

Morocco forward El Kaabi put the result beyond doubt in the 78th minute when he sprinted onto Tzolakis’s punt, eluded Ezri Konsa and slotted home to send Olympiakos into ecstasy.


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