A Konstantinos Mitroglou double inspired Olympiacos to a crucial 2-0 derby win over Panathinaikos at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium this evening.
The result takes the Piraeus club to the top of the Greek Super League and underlined their strength in depth, Zico’s side relatively comfortable across 90 minutes.
There was an hour delay to kick off after the Panathinaikos team bus was attacked on the way to the Karaiskakis Stadium, with reports that the derby was in danger of being postponed.
It went ahead though and the home side were conspicuously more confident in the early stages, making a frantic start despite not breaking down their opponents in the opening minutes.
Both sides exchanged efforts from range, Djibril Cisse seeing his low shot comfortably saved by former Greece international Antonios Nikopolidis, Italian midfielder Enzo Maresca then drawing a sharp one-handed save from his successor Alexandros Tzorvas with a sweetly struck half-volley.
Playing in a three-man forward line, Cisse perhaps should have been more measured when he wasted a half-chance to open the scoring on 12 minutes.
Nikopolidis failed to punch clear a floated ball into the area, which fell to the ex-Liverpool striker, who had his initial effort blocked by Raul Bravo before blazing the rebound wildly into the crowd.
The Frenchman was involved if unconvincing, hitting the crossbar on 25 minutes with a deflected cross that in truth never really looked like sneaking in.
Importantly though, it marked the beginning of an impressive period in the game for the Greens, who had made a tentative start to proceedings.
Greece’s World Cup hero Dimitris Salpingidis could have twice given the visitors a priceless lead, first seeing his deflected strike pounced upon by Nikopolidis before sending a swerving effort not too far wide of the veteran’s goal.
Indeed, the 38 year old needed to stretch to palm away a swerving shot from an unlikely aggressor in centre-back Loukas Vyntra, as Panathinaikos began to dominate with a three man midfield consisting of Kostas Katsouranis, Gilberto Silva and Simao.
Dutch boss Henk Ten Cate would have been frustrated by his side’s inability to convert the half-chances that fell their way during that period of ascendancy – and perhaps their inability to create clear cut chances – and they were duly punished on the stroke of half time.
The goal was perhaps undeserved but showed the clinical nature of a club that has won 12 of the last 13 Greek titles.
A seemingly innocuous free-kick floated to the edge of the box was headed on by Olof Mellberg, Brazilian midfielder Dudu getting to the second ball and acrobatically sending it across the face of goal for an unmarked Konstantinos Mitroglou to slam home.
It galvanized what was an otherwise frustrated Piraeus crowd, the home side carrying the momentum from that goal into the second half and doubling their lead on 54 minutes.
Mitroglou was again the scorer, this time with a considerably more impressive effort, a scissor-kick that left Tzorvas with no chance from a clipped Jaouad Zairi cross.
For substitute Sebastian Leto, it could not have been a worst time to be introduced, his entry into the match moments after the goal drawing an unsurprisingly hostile reception after he left Olympiacos for their hated rivals last season.
He almost silenced the Karaiskakis Stadium on 66 minutes though, with a superb early ball that was flicked towards goal by Cisse, Nikopolidis on-hand to make the initial save before blocking the Frenchman’s second attempt.
On 72 minutes the match should have been put beyond the reach of the former Liverpool man and his teammates, Mitroglou spurning a wonderful chance to complete his hat-trick.
Again Zairi was the architect, twisting and turning Giourkas Seitaridis before whipping a low cross into the near post, Mitroglou not making enough contact to direct the ball toward goal despite being left unmarked.
The recently capped Greece international was irrepressible as Olympiacos’ lone striker, next teeing up Dudu, who blazed an off-balance effort over the crossbar before gesturing to an already passionate crowd to raise the noise level.
It was a moment that epitomized the growing momentum of the hosts, the introduction of teenager Sotiris Ninis representing one of the last attempts by Ten Cate to change the pattern of the match.
With time running out a bizarre decision by Nikopolidis to meet well outside of his penalty box might have offered Panathinaikos a way back into the match but the striker’s effort was deflected wide off the on-rushing ‘keeper from an admittedly tight angle.
Olympiacos then missed another golden opportunity to make it 3-0, a flowing move ending up at the feet of Oscar, who unmarked and from barely six yards out could only manage to roll the ball straight at Tzorvas after being brilliantly set-up by Dudu.
Substitute Tasos Pantos then came similarly close to putting the gloss on a crucial win for the defending champions, his driven effort whistling over the crossbar and Zico’s men going top of the Greek Super League table.
Chris Paraskevas, Goal.com