Olympiacos Vs Fiorentina Europa Conference League Final Match Preview (1 Viewer)

MartinGee

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Greek giants Olympiacos and last year's runners-up Fiorentina are set to clash for glory in the Europa Conference League final this Wednesday in Athens.

Though only 10 miles separate Olympiacos' home ground from the AEK Arena, Fiorentina is determined to spoil the party and avenge their painful loss in Prague a year ago. Olympiacos earned their spot in this final by dismantling Premier League high-flyers Aston Villa with a decisive 6-2 aggregate win in the semi-finals. This match holds special significance for Olympiacos fans, who won't have to travel far to see their team in its first UEFA final.

The journey to the final has seen Olympiacos edge past Maccabi Tel Aviv and Fenerbahce, both in thrilling fashion—extra time against the former and penalties against the latter. A standout performance by Moroccan striker Ayoub El Kaabi, who has netted 15 goals in continental competition this season, has been pivotal to their success. El Kaabi's goal-scoring exploits have set a new record for an African footballer in a single European campaign.

Since taking over in mid-February, experienced coach Jose Luis Mendilibar has revitalized Olympiacos, leading them to become only the second Greek team to reach a UEFA final, 64 years after their debut in European competition. However, with the final being held so close to home, there’s a unique pressure on the squad, who just wrapped up their domestic season with a 2-2 draw against arch-rivals Panathinaikos, finishing third in the Greek Super League.

Olympiacos will be the first club to contest a European final in their home country since Marseille's 2018 Europa League defeat to Atletico Madrid. Notably, the last four teams to play in such a scenario have all ended up as runners-up.

On the other side, Fiorentina, who dropped into the Conference League after exiting the Europa League, have battled their way to the final for the second straight season, hoping to redeem themselves. Last year, they were heartbroken by Jarrod Bowen's last-minute winner for West Ham United. This time, they are determined to bring the trophy back to Florence and secure a spot in next season's revamped Europa League.

Fiorentina's road to Athens has been impressive, with an unbeaten run of 13 European matches, the longest in their history. They navigated through the playoff round and topped Group F, then edged out Maccabi Haifa with a stoppage-time winner, overcame Viktoria Plzen in extra time, and secured their final spot thanks to Lucas Beltran's late penalty against Club Brugge.

For Vincenzo Italiano, this final is crucial. His team has one more match to play against Europa League winners Atalanta BC in a delayed fixture due to their busy schedules. Italiano, who has faced criticism for his performances on big stages, is looking to silence doubters after losing last season's Coppa Italia and Conference League finals and exiting dramatically in this season's Coppa Italia semi-finals. Fiorentina finished eighth in Serie A and will be under immense pressure to clinch their first major European trophy since the 1961 European Cup Winners' Cup.

With both teams carrying heavy expectations, Wednesday's final in Athens promises to be a thrilling encounter.

INJURIES & SUSPENSION​

With over a week to prepare, Olympiacos coach Jose Luis Mendilibar will have his key players ready for Wednesday's final, including former Fiorentina forward Stevan Jovetic, who has just returned from injury. Jovetic, who scored 40 goals in 135 appearances for Fiorentina between 2008 and 2013, secured Europa Conference League qualification for Olympiacos with a late goal in their Super League derby draw with Panathinaikos. However, he's expected to start on the bench against his old club.

Instead, Daniel Podence and Kostas Fortounis, despite Podence's recent red card, are likely to support star striker Ayoub El Kaabi up front. El Kaabi is the top scorer in all European competitions this season, with 10 goals in the knockout stages alone.

Goalkeeper Konstantinos Tzolakis, fresh off his first senior call-up for Greece, will guard the net, while national team defender Panagiotis Retsos is set to partner with David Carmo in the backline. Only Nelson Abbey and Gelson Martins will be absent, as they weren't included in the UEFA squad list. On the other side, Fiorentina will miss only winger Riccardo Sottil, who fractured his collarbone earlier this month.

Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Italiano is known for his unpredictable selections, having named the same starting XI in consecutive games just once in his three years at the club. In their latest match, a 3-2 win over Cagliari that spoiled Claudio Ranieri's emotional send-off, regulars like Nico Gonzalez, Arthur, Lucas Beltran, and Christian Kouame were all rested.

For the final, it's expected that Antonin Barak and Jonathan Ikone will return to the bench to make way for the regular starters. Beltran, Fiorentina's leading scorer in the Conference League with four goals, including a crucial penalty in the semi-final against Club Brugge, will likely lead the attack, paired with either Andrea Belotti or the revitalized M'Bala Nzola.

POSSIBLE LINE-UPS​

Olympiacos possible starting lineup:
Tzolakis; Rodinei, Retsos, Carmo, Quini; Hezze, Iborra; Fortounis, Chiquinho, Podence; El Kaabi

Fiorentina possible starting lineup:
Terracciano; Dodo, Milenkovic, Martinez Quarta, Biraghi; Arthur, Mandragora; Gonzalez, Beltran, Kouame; Nzola

EXPERT PREDICTION​

Olympiacos 1-1 Fiorentina (Penalties To Decide)
Both teams have reached the final through a series of dramatic escapes and high-scoring matches, setting the stage for what promises to be an enthralling contest.

Fiorentina, often the nearly-men of Italian football, might fall short once again, but it could take extra time and perhaps penalties to decide. If Olympiacos triumph, expect the storied streets of Athens to erupt in the mother of all celebrations.
 

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