Preview: Olympiacos vs. Cukaricki

Preview: Olympiacos vs. Cukaricki

Greek giants Olympiacos welcome Serbian outfit Cukaricki to the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium for the first leg of their Europa League playoff tie on Thursday.

While the hosts are bidding to reach the Europa League group stage for the third successive season, the visitors have never competed in the group stage of any major European competition.

After beating Belgian side Genk 2-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round, following up a 1-0 first-leg home win with a 1-1 second-leg draw on the road last week, Olympiacos kick-started the new Greek Super League campaign with a 2-0 victory at home against 10-man Panserraikos on Sunday.

The Red-Whites were given a major boost just four minutes into the contest when Panserraikos defender Tomas Hajek was shown a straight red card, but they had to wait until the 63rd minute to break the deadlock courtesy of a sweet strike from Pep Biel, before Youssef El-Arabi sealed the victory with an 87th-minute penalty.

Olympiacos boss Diego Martinez praised the “patience and perseverance” of his players in the win over Panserraikos, but he will hope to see signs of improvement in the final third after they converted just two of their 31 shots on goal last time out.

The 47-time Greek Super League champions are seeking to win back their top-flight crown this season after finishing third in 2022-23 behind champions AEK Athens and second-placed Panathanikos, but Martinez’s men will now shift their focus back to Europa League qualification as they endeavour to take control of their playoff tie with Cukaricki.

Olympiacos will be confident of success on Thursday as they boast an impressive home record, having only lost one of their last 19 competitive matches across all competitions dating back to November last year.

Cukaricki, meanwhile, enter the Europa League playoff round after finishing third in the Serbian SuperLiga for the third successive season in 2022-23.

The Highlanders began the new domestic season with two wins and one draw in their opening three league games, but their unbeaten start came to an end last Friday when they suffered a 3-0 away defeat to FK IMT.

Manager Milan Lesnjak admitted after the disappointing loss that his side “did not look like ourselves” and has encouraged his players to “fix everything” ahead of their challenging first-leg tie with Olympiacos.

Lesnjak is aware that his Cukaricki side are underdogs heading into Thursday’s contest, but if they can bounce back with a dogged display in Greece to claim at least a draw, then that will provide them with a huge boost ahead of the second leg in Belgrade next week.

Olympiacos Europa League form:

Olympiacos form (all competitions):

Cukaricki form (all competitions):

We say: Olympiacos 2-0 Cukaricki
Olympiacos will be regarded as first favourites to come out on top in this two-legged tie and they should have few problems taking control of Thursday’s first leg, especially if they rediscover their form in front of goal against a Cukaricki side who have conceded six goals in their last three matches.

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