Having finished their UEFA Champions League group stage campaign with two straight wins – 1-0 at Olympique de Marseille and 3-1 at home to Arsenal FC – Ernesto Valverde's Olympiacos FC dropped into the UEFA Europa League round of 32. They have kept on winning, though, with last week's 1-0 success at FC Metalist Kharkiv their fifth on the bounce in Europe.
Once winning away from home in Europe was the stuff of science fiction for the Piraeus club – it took them 32 attempts before they managed a first UEFA Champions League success on the road, at SV Werder Bremen in October 2007. However, the new model Olympiacos are ruthless on their travels, and no less resilient at home, to the delight of captain Vassilis Torossidis.
"There has been a change in the team's mentality, a fierce determination," he told UEFA.com. "We really go for it in every match, whether we are up against big names or theoretically smaller teams, at home or away. I hope we can keep this frame of mind, because the results we have been getting add to the prestige of the team."
Solidity in defence has been a crucial factor – Olympiacos have not conceded in their last ten games in all competitions. "In order to keep ten clean sheets in a row, a team needs – above all – to have luck on their side," said Greek international Torossidis. "It is also the product of hard, collective work, not just by the guys at the back. Everyone who has played, up front, in midfield or in defence, has helped to achieve this amazing statistic."
That stunning form has helped Olympiacos reach the Greek Cup semi-finals, reclaim top spot in their domestic league and – perhaps most impressively of all – deny the most prolific team in the UEFA Europa League a goal. Metalist had been the tournament's arch entertainers, with 23 goals in eight games since the start of the group stage, but their trail went cold against Valverde's side.
Torossidis, though, knows the Ukrainian club are far from beaten as the focus shifts to Greece. "They are skilful and have a lot of pace," said the 26-year-old. "Our coach said after the match in Ukraine that the second leg would be harder for us. I absolutely agree with him, because the smooth pitch at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium favours fast teams like Metalist."
Olympiacos, though, have something to aim for. Should they make it through this round, they will match their best ever performance in a European competition: they previously reached the last eight in the 1992/93 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and the 1998/99 UEFA Champions League. If they can scrap their way through to the semi-finals, they could start to dream of something even bigger.
Torossidis, however, is not looking that far ahead. "Our realistic aim for the season is the domestic double," the defender said. "As for the Europa League, I don't want to set any goals. I have a one-match-at-a-time attitude. First of all, we have to qualify on Thursday. If we achieve it, great. To be one of the eight best teams in the UEFA Europa League is not something to be underestimated. From then on, we can only hope that luck will be on our side."
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