Football Features

Ayoub El Kaabi makes history as Olympiacos end European final curse

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:51, 29 May 2024

Ayoub El Kaabi made history as he scored the only goal of Olympiaco’s Europa Conference League final win over Fiorentina.

Finals are meant to be in neutral venues, and they generally are, with both sets of fans having to travel for the showpiece. But sometimes we get something of a home advantage.

Since the start of this century there have been six occasions on which a side has played a major European final in their home country. On three of those occasions, the finalist has played in their own stadium!

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So you’d think those teams will have made it count, right? Right? Wrong. Before Olympiacos took on Fiorentina in Athens, Marseille were the last team to contest a major European final in their home country, facing AtleticO Madrid in the 2017/18 Europa League final in Lyon. They lost 3-0.

Six years earlier, Bayern Munich lost the 2011/12 Champions League final on penalties to Chelsea, in their own stadium. A year before that, Manchester United were beaten 3-1 by Barcelona in the Champions League final at Wembley.

In 2004/05, Sporting CP were beaten 3-1 by CSKA Moscow at their home ground in the UEFA Cup final. And, finally, Feyenoord beat Borussia Dortmund 3-2 in the 2001/02 UEFA Cup final, hosted at their stadium. Five games with “home advantage” and just one win.

Make that six games with “home advantage” and two wins.

It was a final to forget, with both sides being wasteful in attack. After 90 minutes, Fiorentina had 12 shots to Olympiacos’ three, but there were just five shots on target between them.

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Christian Kouame was the biggest culprit for Fiorentina with eight touches in the opposition box and two shots. He was the man getting into right positions, but he couldn’t find the finishing touch. And that’s something Fiorentina fans have been used to this season.

Kouame has now had 21 shots in the Europa Conference League this season without scoring, with no goalless player managing more efforts. At the other end of the pitch, Ayoub El Kaabi didn’t manage a shot in 90 minutes and had just 25 touches for Olympiacos.

But as the game edged closer towards penalties, El Kaabi took his chance. It came through a teasing ball into the box and El Kaabi got in front of the defender to poke it past the goalkeeper.

It was El Kaabi’s 11th goal in the knockout stages of the Europa Conference League. Since the addition of the group stages in major European competitions, no player had ever scored 11 goals in a single knockout stage campaign. Radamel Falcao, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema had all managed 10. But El Kaabi stands clear with 11.

El Kaabi is also the first non-European player to score 14 goals in major European competition in a single season since Lionel Messi netted 14 in the 2011/12 Champions League.

To cap off the history made, Olympiacos are the first ever Greek side to win a major European tournament. Rivals Panathinaikos are the only other Greek side to reach the final of a major European tournament, losing the 1971 European Cup final to Ajax.

Let’s not forget this is a team on their third manager of the season. They started the campaign with Diego Martinez in charge, but he was sacked and replaced by Carlos Carvalhal. Jose Luis Mendilibar then took over in February, winning 16 of his 23 games in charge. That includes overturning a 4-1 first-leg defeat to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the last 16 of the Europa Conference League.

But spare a thought for Fiorentina, who have now lost back-to-back Europa Conference League finals. They’re the first team to lose back-to-back major European finals since Benfica lost the Europa League final in 2013 and 2014.