Hammers see historic European run end in Greece


Ola Solbakken and Kostas Fortounis of Olympiakos embrace after the team's victory during the UEFA Europa League 2023/24 match between Olympiacos FC and West Ham United FC at Karaiskakis Stadium on October 26, 2023 in Piraeus, Greece. 

There was to be no Greek triumph for West Ham United in the deafening atmosphere of the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium.

Instead, it turned out to be more of a Greek tragedy for the Hammers and their 1600 travelling fans, who saw their team’s record-breaking, 17-match unbeaten European run finally come to an end in this UEFA Europa League tie.

First-half goals by skipper Sotiris Fortounis and Rodinei – with the help of an Angelo Ogbonna deflection - put the hosts firmly in control before substitute Lucas Paquetá fired home a late, late consolation for David Moyes men.

Back in 1965, after winning 4-0 at the Boleyn Ground, reigning European Cup Winners’ Cup holders West Ham had drawn 2-2 in a second-round tie at Olympiacos but nearly six decades on, sadly, time ran out on any East End opportunity to repeat that score in the Greek capital.

Coming into matchday three topping Group A, the Hammers had previously beaten Serbian side TSC Bačka Topola at London Stadium before winning in Germany at SC Freiburg last time out - but on the domestic front, they returned from this month’s international break with a forlorn 4-1 defeat against Aston Villa at the weekend that left them in ninth place in the Premier League.

And with an eye on Sunday’s clash with former side Everton, manager Moyes made seven changes to the team that lost at Villa Park as skipper Ogbonna, Athens-born Konstantinos Mavropanos, Thilo Kehrer, Pablo Fornals, Mohammed Kudus, Saïd Benrahma and Danny Ings all came into his starting line-up.

That saw Paquetá, Nayef Aguerd, Kurt Zouma, Edson Álvarez, Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen drop to the bench and, while Vladimír Coufal did not travel, the Scot was also able to add fit-again duo of Aaron Cresswell and Ben Johnson to his list of substitutes.

Sitting at the top of the Greek Super League, 47-time champions Olympiacos had seen Sunday’s home derby with Panathinaikos abandoned five minutes after the break when visiting substitute Juankar was struck by a firecracker, while warming up on the touchline.

And there was an equally explosive introduction to this tie in the run-up to kick-off with the partisan home supporters packed behind Alphonse Areola’s goal unfurling a stand-high banner from the rafters proclaiming: ‘Tonight you dine in Hell.’

Then, when the game itself commenced in a bubbling cauldron of passion mixed with hostility, the hosts served up a starter of two quick corners before the ever-dangerous Sotiris Alexandropoulos unleashed a low 18-yarder that Areola saved at full stretch.

With Daniel Podence cleverly prodding and probing at every opportunity, too, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers striker was making life unpalatable for a Hammers defence in which an under-pressure Mavropanos was probably wishing he and his team-mates were back in London rather than his birthplace.

As the opening period wore on, though, the counter-attacking Hammers produced some flashes of resistance, forcing a trio of corners, while also seeing Fornals fire into the clutches of Alexandros Paschalakis and Benrahma drill into the side-netting from an impossible angle.

Diego Martínez’s side always looked most likely to dish up a goal against the spluttering visitors and, sure enough, on 33 minutes they broke the deadlock, when Fortounis collected just inside the Hammers half before slaloming his way past the flat-footed trio of Fornals, James Ward-Prowse and Mavropanos.

With the target now in range, the Olympiacos skipper let fly with a 20-yarder that sizzled beyond Areola’s outstretched right glove as it ripped inside the left upright to turn the decibel level up yet more notches.

And with those deafening roars still subsiding, the diving Fortounis almost doubled his tally moments later but he steered Rodinei’s teasing cross inches wide before Mady Camara curled another effort the wrong side of the far post.

With the fourth official signalling an additional minute of stoppage time, the Hammers knew they would have work to do after the break but as those seconds ticked down, that task simply got bigger.

There had been nothing fortunate about that Fortounis opener but when Rodinei sent a routine looking right-wing cross towards Ayoub El Kaabi on the edge of the six-yard box, Ogbonna’s attempted clearance saw the ball take a nick off his shin-pad before it looped over the helpless Areola.

Now two goals adrift, West Ham might have halved the deficit with virtually the last kick of the first half but Paschalakis bravely dived into the studs of Ings to preserve his side’s two-goal interval advantage.

There was more pain for Ings just after the restart, too, when Panagiotis Retsos received the first yellow card of the night for a raking lunge on him before Ward-Prowse curled the consequent 25-yard free-kick inches beyond the left post.

Ings then scooped Emerson’s clever cut-back high over from 10 yards before heading another Ward-Prowse corner over the top and that was the cue for Antonio, Paquetá and Bowen to step from the bench to replace the luckless Hammers striker alongside the disappointed duo of Benrahma and Fornals for the final half-hour or so.

Paquetá wasted no time in making his presence felt as he clumsily bundled into El Kaabi at the expense of a booking and, moments later, the Brazilian midfielder was on the end of an equally unnecessary rugby tackle that saw Alexandropoulos see yellow too.

Suddenly Latvian referee Andris Treimanis was becoming the busiest man on the pitch, cautioning Emerson for another ill-timed tackle on Fortounis.

After Alexandropoulos launched another rising 20-yarder just a whisker over the angle, Moyes made his final changes of a disjointed evening, withdrawing Ward-Prowse and the subdued Kudus to send on Álvarez and Maxwel Cornet.

Those fresh legs on the field, the reshuffled Hammers now enjoyed their best spell of the game and in a frantic furious finale that saw Antonio, Ogbonna, Camara and substitute Giorgios Masouras take the bookings count to eight, the visitors mustered a goal at long last.

With only three minutes remaining, Antonio sent over a left-wing cross that substitute Quini could only head into the path of Paquetá who expertly sent an unstoppable 12-yard volley ripping into the net.

Sadly, even with an additional eight minutes added on for all of the referee’s late clerical duties, that would be a good as it would get for Moyes’ men, who must now entertain the Greeks in the London Stadium return on matchday four (November 9, 8pm) knowing only a revenge victory will suffice if they are to continue to top their qualifying group.

OLYMPIACOS: Paschalakis, Rodinei (Quini 74), Ortega, Porozo, Retsos, Camara, Alexandropoulos (Masouras 85), El Kaabi (Scarpa 90+4), Fortounis (Jovetić 90+4), Podence (Solbakken 85). Unused subs: Tzolakis, Papadoudis, El-Arabi, Vrousai, João Carvalho, Pep Biel.

WEST HAM UNITED: Areola, Kehrer, Emerson, Mavropanos, Ogbonna, Souček, Ward-Prowse (Álvarez 72), Fornals (Paquetá 57), Benrahma (Bowen 57), Kudus (Cornet 72), Ings (Antonio 57). Unused subs: Anang, Johnson, Cresswell, Zouma, Aguerd, Mubama.

Booked: Retsos (46), Paquetá (64), Alexandropoulos (65), Emerson (66), Antonio (76), Camara (82), Ogbonna (88), Masouras (90+3).

Referee: Andris Treimanis (Latvia).

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