Portuguese defender Rúben Semedo scored his fourth goal of the season as Olympiacos won the weekend’s big clash in Greek football with a 2-0 victory over AEK Athens in Piraeus.
Pedro Martins’ side produced a convincing display to claim all three points and maintain their position at the top of the Super League, in what looks set to be a competitive battle for the title with Abel Ferreira’s PAOK. For Semedo, a first goal in domestic football follows three goals in the club’s European campaign.
The match on Sunday evening at the Georgios Karaiskaki stadium was predictably high in Portuguese involvement. As expected former Guimarães boss Mendes selected his trusted trio of goalkeeper José Sá, summer arrival Semedo and midfield schemer Daniel Podence, while visitors AEK fielded Hélder Lopes, André Simões and Nélson Oliveira in their staring line-up and introduced David Simão during the second half.
Olympiacos set the tempo of the game, dominating possession with 63% of the ball, and the hosts did not have to wait long to take the lead through Portuguese stopper Semedo. The former Sporting man has already established himself as an accomplished poacher in the box following set-pieces and Semedo was on-hand to convert from close-range with just eight minutes played.
AEK’s main threat came through ex-Benfica striker Oliveira, who twice drew saves from compatriot Sá with dangerous efforts from tight angles. Semedo may have had another goal in the first half, meanwhile, but his acrobatic attempt to meet a cross at the back post failed to yield a good connection.
Olympiakos’ one-goal lead lasted for much of the game, but AEK struggled to create chances in the second half, with substitute Simao’s rasping left-foot shot from distance going close. As the second half became more intense, Oliveira and Lopes from the AEK side joined Semedo in receiving bookings as the visitors committed double the fouls of their opponents.
Another key Portuguese protagonist on the night was Daniel Podence, and the former Sporting midfielder was involved in the clinching goal for Olympiakos. Podence had already teed up Malian midfielder Mady Camara to go close, before a typically driving run infield from the Portugal man led to him squaring for Mady to find the top corner with a sensational effort and put the game beyond AEK.
After the match, Olympiakos coach Martins expressed his satisfaction with the performance and explained his team’s improved form this season. “Congratulations to my team and players,” he said. “We were the best team. We played positively and rhythmically against an opponent who made a lot of fouls. We deserved the victory. Congratulations to our players for their approach and for dominating the game.
“I think it was our best game in the league so far against a good quality opponent. We did not let the opponent threaten us very much. This year we have been much more stable. Last year everything was new. Stability plays a role. This year we are much more mature and experienced.
“The fans? Once again they were fantastic. I've exhausted my vocabulary. They're fantastic.”
Vieirinha comeback continues
Martins stressed during his press conference that he still feels AEK are title contenders, but many observers expect a tight battle for the crown between Olympiacos and defending champions PAOK, coached by former Braga boss Abel Ferreira.
PAOK have responded well to the disappointment of an early exit from Europe during the qualifying rounds of the Champions League and the Europa League, and Abel’s men find themselves unbeaten so far in domestic football. The champions currently trail Olympiacos by two points thanks to six wins and two draws from their opening eight matches.
The most recent victory came on Saturday when PAOK won 2-0 at Volos. The match saw captain Vieirinha play the final minutes for the second week running, continuing his gradual reintroduction following a serious knee injury sustained in April. With an initial diagnosis estimating the typical return to action as being between 6-9 months, it has come as little surprise that Vieirinha finds himself returning at the short end of the timescale.
This year’s Super League began with four Portuguese coaches in charge of clubs in the 14-team competition. However, that number has already been halved after Miguel Cardoso was sacked by AEK in August and more recently young manager Luís Castro was replaced by Panetolikos following a winless first six games in charge.
By Sean Gillen