In what will go down as the greatest ever Greek Cup final and perhaps the greatest match in the history of Greek domestic final, Olympiakos won the Greek Cup 15-14 on penalties after a 4-4 draw, two red cards and 120 minutes of drama at the OAKA Spiros Louis Stadium in Athens.
Retiring club legend Predrag Djordjevic was given the perfect send-off by his teammates, who secured their club's 24th Greek Cup title.
It was AEK who made a stunning start to proceedings at the OAKA Sprios Louis Stadium, the league’s joint top-scorer Ismael Blanco opening the scoring after just four minutes of play.
His strike partner Rafik Djebbour did superbly well to evade Paraskevas Antzas just outside the area, before delicate clipping the ball into the box for the Argentine to head home at the near-post after getting in-front of Greece international Avraam Papadopoulos.
Whether Blanco was offside is debatable, with the linesman giving the benefit of the doubt of a particularly tight call to the attacking team.
More concerning for Olympiakos manager Ernesto Valverde would have been the static start made by his defenders in Athens and they were punished by a lively Blanco again just four minutes later.
It is remarkable that the prolific 25 year-old has eluded the grasp of bigger European clubs since arriving from Argentine football two years ago and again showed a class not shared by many of his teammates.
His second goal of the evening was perhaps more the result of an inexcusably flat defensive line, Pantelis Kafes’ ball into the area raced onto by the untracked and onside Blanco, who shot under the body of Antonis Nikopolidis from the left-hand side of the area.
Within the context of what are normally tense, tight derby affairs in Greece, it was a particularly surprising start to proceedings, reflected in the stunned facial expression of Olympiakos’ 38 year-old goalkeeper, who recently signed a one-year contract extension with the defending champions.
Though Raffik Djebbour was proving problematic with his ability to drop into space during the early parts of the match, Olympiakos gradually began to dominate possession and force their opponents to operate on the counter.
On 11 minutes they made their first attempt at goal, a low corner by on-loan Liverpool winger Sebastian Leto finding Diogo, who evaded his marker but hit ballooned his first-time effort over the crossbar.
It marked a first period of pressure for the Piraeus outfit, though the game degenerated into the sort of scrappy, direct derby affair with which Greek football fans have become familiar in the past.
Despite their territorial dominance and ability to find space in-behind a fairly immobile AEK defence, Valverde’s men wasted their early deliveries into the penalty area from both open play and a number of promising positions from set-pieces.
Delivery was often straight down the throat of goalkeeper Sebastian Saja or dealt with by a resilient but deep-lying back-line, to whom Leto was the most potent threat.
His determination was epitomized by a 38th minute effort that saw him get a deflected effort away at goal in the 38th minute, Saja forced to react sharply and palm the ball away after committing himself.
With their physical presence in midfield becoming more prounounced, Olympiakos began to forced their opponents into a rather desperate state at the back, as Bajevic’s men held on to their 2-0 advantage until half-time.
Unsurprising was Ernesto Valverde’s decision to introduce on-loan Blackburn Rovers striker Matt Derbyshire into the match at the break and the impact of the Englishman was immediate, Olympiakos equalizing within two minutes of the restart.
A short corner played to Didier Domi caught out AEK’s defence, the Frenchman’s early ball into the area glanced into the back of the net by the lively Derbyshire.
With their supporters galvanized, Olympiakos quickly began to pressure their opponents, though their hard work was almost undone embarrassingly by Nikopolidis moments later.
The Euro 2004-winner’s gaffe almost gifted AEK a goal, as he proceeded to spill a routine catch from a seemingly harmless Nacho Scocco free-kick, the ball bouncing just wide of his left post in front of the AEK support.
AEK’s chances though took a huge blow on 61 minutes, Sotiris Kyrgiakos forced off with injury, appropriately after tussling to win a goal-kick with the lively Derbyshire.
His introduction changed the complexion of the game, joined off the bench by Olympiakos legend and club legend Predrag Djordjevic in what was his final competitive match for the club.
It was the former though who was endeavouring to make himself a new hero amongst the Piraeus fans, missing a wonderful opportunity to level the score in the 64th minute.
The departure of defensive talisman Kyrgiakos had an immediate effect, his replacement Giorgios Alexopoulos showing the effects of his recent introduction by slipping and allowing Diogo to beat him and cross low into the penalty area, where an unmarked Derbyshire lifted the ball over the crossbar from close range.
Evident from the moment of Derbyshire’s initial goal however was the fact that it was a matter of when and not if that Olympiakos would eventually equalize, their pressure eventually telling when Belluschi’s free-kick was punched into a cluster of players by Saja and eventually forced home by Brazilian Dudu Cearense on 70 minutes.
They then almost took the lead just a few minutes later, the effervescent Derbyshire seeing his effort from outside the area palmed away by Saja after some typically industrious work down the left side by Djordjevic.
What had threatened for a period during the first half to become a tense, broken affair had opened up wonderfully for the neutral viewer in the second half.
A fairytale ending for Predrag Djordjevic would have been a fitting way to finish a memorable Cup Final and had it not been for the sprawling Saja in the 84th minute it might have been, his driven free-kick turned away from the right upright.
It was Derbyshire who remained his side’s most potent threat from open play though, the striker glancing over the crossbar after a teasing cross from the right by Luciano Galletti with just four minutes of normal time remaining.
Unbelievably though it was his fellow Argentine who would appear to settle the game in the favour of an embattled AEK side in the final minute of normal time, who for the majority of the game had been outplayed by the favourites in Athens.
Olympiakos paid for their inability to capitalize on a number of guilt-edged chances, as Antonis Nikopolidis first saw his clearance skewed out for a throw in on the left, Geraldo Alves taking it quickly.
The energetic Scocco showed his characteristically nimble feet to dance through three defenders and into the penalty area, before delaying his finish intelligently and sliding the ball just inside the far post.
With the AEK fans sent into raptures at the prospect of their club’s first trophy in seven years, drama still managed to unfold on the pitch, Matt Derbyshire sprawled on the floor after a head clash and Sotiris Kyrgiakos sent to the stands in the ensuing celebrations of his side’s goal.
One might have been excused for believing that would be the final meaningful action of a match that had now entered the 96th minute of play but it was left to Matt Derbyshire – who, playing alongside a club legend in Djordjevic – was now beginning to write himself into the history books of Greece’s most successful club.
The Englishman, whose arrival had been met with mixed reactions in Greece in January, headed home heroically after a hopeful long ball into the penalty area had been flicked on by Diogo, sending a drama-filled encounter tantalizingly into extra time.
Wit their opponents continuing to sit deep and struggle to mount an attacking threat, Valverde’s Olympiakos took the lead for the first time in the match after 102 minutes, Luciano Galletti latching onto an incisive Dordjevic through-ball into the penalty area.
Untracked and from the right side of the box, his finish was arrowed into the far corner of the net off the post.
In the ensuing celebrations and unsurprisingly given the drama that had up until that point unfolded, Luciano Galletti was shown a second yellow card for taking his shirt off.
Avraam Papadopoulos was then giving his marching orders after being awarded a second yellow for a professional foul on Pantelis Kafes as the midfielder threatened to break away, Olympiakos reduced to nine men as the first half of extra time drew to a close.
Despite having the lead the men from Piraeus were always going to struggle with a two-man disadvantage during the second half, though the goal they conceded came from another goalkeeping error from their veteran.
Expecting a cross by Nacho Scocco as AEK set about committing bodies forward, the former Greece international was caught out at his near post when the Argentine miss-hit his delivery and saw the ball glide under the crossbar and into the net in bizarre fashion.
Even with their numerical disadvantage, Olympiakos defended stoutly as AEK wasted any chance of dominating the closing stages of the match by conceding a succession of cheap free-kicks and failing to commit bodies forward, referee Anastasios Kakos signalled an end to regular play in what may well go down as the greatest ever Greek Cup final.
In an appropriately epic penalty shootout, Olympiakos clinched yet another Greek Cup, winning 15-14 despite having twice missed the chance to win the shootout previously – denied by the immense Sebastian Saja.
However, it was his opposite number Antonis Nikopolidis who attoned for his earlier errors during the match by saving eventually from Agustin Pelletieri and then himself scoring to hand the Piraeus club their 24th Greek Cup title, completing the domestic double.
Olympiakos 4 (Derbyshire 46’, 90+6’, Dudu 70’, Galletti 102’)
AEK Athens 4 (Blanco 4’, 8’, Scocco 90’, 107’)
Olympiakos win 15-14 on penalties
Chris Paraskevas, Goal.com