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Olympiacos 1-0 Fiorentina (aet): El Kaabi´s extra-time winner snatches dramatic Europa Conference Le

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 29 May 2024

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Ayoub El Kaabi was the hero as Olympiacos won their first major European honour in history, snatching a dramatic 1-0 extra-time victory over Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final.

After nothing could separate the sides inside 90 minutes, talisman El Kaabi scored a 116th-minute winner at the AEK Arena as Olympiacos became the first Greek side to win a major European competition.

Once again, Fiorentina fell at the final hurdle of this competition, with La Viola also losing out to West Ham in the Prague showpiece last season.

Greek greatness will be cherished by Olympiacos and head coach Jose Luis Mendilibar, who secured continental glory in successive seasons following his Europa League triumph with Sevilla this time last year.

Daniel Podence tested Pietro Terracciano early on before Fiorentina thought they had opened the scoring just nine minutes into the final.

Cristiano Biraghi’s cross crept into Konstantinos Tzolakis’ bottom-right corner, but Nikola Milenkovic was ruled offside for his position in front of the Olympiacos goalkeeper.

Despite their celebrations being cut short, Fiorentina continued with the greater attacking impetus throughout the first half.

Yet La Viola’s dominance paid little dividends as Giacomo Bonaventura – their scorer in last season’s final defeat to West Ham – wasted the best chance, shooting straight at Tzolakis from close range after 21 minutes.

Opportunities remained elusive after the break but Fiorentina again went close in the 69th minute as Dodo found Christian Kouame, whose scuffed effort was pushed away by Tzolakis.

Olympiacos almost struck 11 minutes later when Francisco Ortega’s free-kick was met by Iborra, but the 36-year-old’s header missed the inside Terracciano’s right-hand post as the final headed for extra-time.

Mendilibar had earlier introduced former Fiorentina striker Stevan Jovetic, who almost came back to haunt his old club in the 96th minute, when cutting inside before fizzing a strike that Terracciano tipped away.

A penalty shoot-out appeared likely when Tzolakis denied Jonathan Ikone, until El Kaabi ghosted in to nod home Santiago Hezze’s cross with just four minutes remaining.

Olympiacos’ fans were made to wait to celebrate after a lengthy VAR check for offside in Athens, but erupted into wild frenzy after confirmation of a historic moment in Greek footballing history.

King El Kaabi secures unprecedented glory for Olympiacos

Not since Panathinaikos in the 1970-71 European Cup (losing 2-0 to Ajax) had a Greek side appeared in a major European final.

Fast forward 53 years, and Olympiacos went one step further, delivering their nation’s first major continental silverware.

The decisive moment came from talisman El Kaabi with his 16th goal overall in European competition this season, including qualifiers.

It was also his 11th in the knockout stages of the Conference League – the highest tally in a single season since group stages were introduced to major European competition – surpassing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao and Karim Benzema (all 10).

Deja vu as La Viola suffer familiar heartbreak

Just like a year ago, Fiorentina are left to wonder what might have been, with a late goal breaking their hearts.

It was Jarrod Bowen in stoppage time in Prague last year. This time, it was El Kaabi who delivered the killer blow to La Viola’s hopes of landing their first European silverware since the 1960-61 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

After a club-record 13-match unbeaten run, Fiorentina became the third team to reach successive European finals after playing at least one qualifying round – after Milan in 1992-93 and 1993-94, and Valencia in 1999-2000 and 2000-01. However, that will be of little consolation to Vincenzo Italiano in his penultimate match in charge.

It is 23 years since Fiorentina lifted the Coppa Italia – their most recent silverware – and that wait continues, having now won just one of the six continental finals they have contested.

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