Andrew Flint –
Olympiacos vs Krasnodar – Wednesday, August 21, 20:00 BST/21:00 CET – Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus – Greece
Last season was a seismic on in Greek football in many ways. For the first time in over 30 years, a team-based from outside the greater Athens area were crowned champions, while it was only the fourth time since 1996 that Olympiacos had not won the title. Outside Britain, no European club has accumulated more league titles. As the most successful Greek side, they have appeared in the Champions League proper more than any other club in bar Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus, Porto and Bayern Munich. To be denied, success is not natural for them.
Like their Russian opponents, the transfer window is still very much open for them, but unlike their visitors, they have not yet started their domestic league season. As such they are still considering a number of players to bring in to bolster their ranks. A while ago they were able to bring in players of the class of Giovanni, Javier Saviola, Estebán Cambiasso and Rivaldo. Just this week, however, they have been snubbed by Matteo García – a 22-year-old Argentine who has bounced around on loan for the last three seasons – in favour of Crvena Zvezda, and look likely to miss out on the injury-prone Daniel Sturridge to Trabzonspor.
Has their lustre worn off? Have the trappings of success become bigger than progress? An institution like Olympiacos is caught in a strange limbo between domestic dominance and the non-existent prospect of ever winning Europe’s elite competition. The significance of this playoff tie is not lost on former PAS Giannina manager Giannis Petrakis. “For Greece, it is very important,” he told Spor FM radio this week. “Olympiacos have started the year with good consistency, mentality and image. Krasnodar will not be easy. They have invested a lot in recent years. But it’s two games and [Olympiacos] can do it. ”
Historic games are coming thick and fast for Krasnodar; such is the nature of being such a young and remarkably efficient club backed by a wealthy and visionary owner. Last week’s second leg away to Porto was obviously the most significant game in their history up until that point, but within days the bar has been raised once again as the team travel to Greece to face Olympiacos. Next week the stakes will be raised further in southern Russia. How the new-look squad cope with the ever-changing pressure will dictate their short-term fortunes.
Progress can be measured differently; for example, the exponential rise of Krasnodar is success in itself. Since debuting in continental competition six years ago they have taken part in European football every season, making the group stages each time bar 2017/18. The second leg will mark their 50th UEFA fixture – impressive for a club that didn’t exist just over a decade ago. Eighteen months ago the under-19 side broke an attendance record in the UEFA Youth League as they valiantly lost on penalties to their Real Madrid counterparts. Now, the coach and three players are guiding the senior side.
The truest form of progress is perhaps in the level of expectation a side earns, and in that sense, Krasnodar are flying. Last season’s plucky heroics were met with disappointment tempered by a certain understanding that it wasn’t meant to be. At this point, it would be considered a let-down if Olympiacos cannot be overcome over two legs. Murad Musaev must become bolder away from home if Krasnodar are to avoid piling insufferable burdens on home legs. He certainly has the explosive pace, ingenuity and composure in his imaginative squad to take the game to reach the group stages – now he must hold it together over two games to pass the most vital test yet.
Olympiacos vs Krasnodar – Players to Watch
Mathieu Valbuena #28 – Olympiacos
The Frenchman is no stranger to Russian football having sparkled for Dinamo Moscow’s star-studded outfit five years ago which ultimately disintegrated amidst FFP restrictions. Often cutting a frustrated figure on the pitch in Moscow, Valbuena has never lost his magic touch even in the twilight stages of his career. In his first four games since arriving in Greece following a two-year spell at Fenerbahce he has been involved in three goals and will be key to scheming through Krasnodar’s defence. His strength has never been brute pace or power, but his ability to pick out teammates is a slightly different challenge for Ruslan Kambolov to deal with.
Marcus Berg #33 – Krasnodar
A pattern has begun to emerge in Europe for Krasnodar when it comes to team selection; with Ari out injured one would assume that young academy star Ivan Ignatyev would slot right into a fluid front line, but veteran Swedish striker Berg has been chosen to start in both Champions League qualifiers. In truth, he has had a little impact so far, largely down to his lack of connection to his new teammates. However, there is a reason he has been brought in. His job is arguably the least glamorous or obvious one; the array of lethal runners and passers from midfield will rely once again on the selfless target-man duties to allow them the time and space to threaten for that invaluable away goal.
Olympiacos vs Krasnodar – Match Stats
- Although Olympiacos have had to progress through an extra round of qualification, they have already taken part in 18 group-stage campaigns
- They haven’t conceded a goal so far in their four Champions League qualifying matches, and are unbeaten in eight home games in the competition (W6, L2)
- Olympiacos have three of their four matches against Russian clubs, losing once way back in 1971/72 against Dinamo Moscow
- Krasnodar’s dramatic second-leg win in Oporto was their first European away win in five
- In their only previous meeting with Greek opposition away from home, Krasnodar drew 0-0 with PAOK four seasons ago.
- Krasnodar striker Marcus Berg played for Olympiacos’ bitter rivals Panathinaikos for four seasons, scoring three goals against them
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Olympiacos vs Krasnodar – 1-1
Olympiacos vs Krasnodar – Possible Lineups
Sá – Elabdellaoui, Semedo, Merlah, Tsimikas – Bouchalakis, Guilherme – Podence, Valbuena, Masouras – Guerrero
Head coach: Pedro Martins
Safonov – Petrov, Spajic, Fjóluson, Ramírez – Vilhena, Kambolov, Olsson – Wanderson, Berg, Cabella
Head coach: Murad Musaev
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.