By Paris Ayiomamitis at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium
A late goal by Gabriel Schürrer earned Olympiacos CFP a narrow victory at home to AS Monaco FC that took the home side to the top of UEFA Champions League Group A.
Olympiacos, who moved one point clear of Monaco in the standings with two matches remaining, were made to work hard by their determined visitors but six minutes from time Schürrer was on hand to apply a close-range finish that reinvigorated Olympiacos's hopes of reaching the first knockout round. Monaco, meanwhile, dropped from first to third in the section behind Liverpool FC.
Both coaches had fully-fit squads at their disposal, with Dusan Bajevic introducing Serbo-Montenegrin midfield player Predrag Djordevic on the Olympiacos left and Anastasios Pantos returning at left-back after suspension. The home side lined up in an attacking 4-3-3 formation, with Brazilians Rivaldo and Giovanni paired together behind Ioannis Okkas up front. Monaco coach Didier Deschamps opted for a cautious 4-2-3-1 approach, Gaël Givet and Jaroslav Plašil coming into the side and Emmanuel Adebayor starting on his own up front.
The first half was an evenly-matched affair, with Monaco producing a disciplined display and controlling the pace of the game to frustrate the home side's ambitions for an early goal. Olympiacos showed their attacking intent from the first whistle but Monaco were unfazed, pressing tirelessly in midfield to keep the home attackers at bay.
Nevertheless, the Greek side did create chances, with Giovanni setting up Rivaldo for a right-foot volley in the 13th minute that flew over the crossbar. Rivaldo was involved again nine minutes later when he tried to break the deadlock with a trademark overhead kick but the ball trickled harmlessly into the arms of Monaco goalkeeper Flavio Roma.
Monaco looked comfortable enough, however, and, although rarely threatening, Deschamps's team did carve out the best chance of the first 45 minutes on the counterattack. Plašil showed great determination to win possession before laying the ball on for Javier Saviola, but the Argentinian forward's deep cross was volleyed over by Adebayor with only Antonios Nikopolidis to beat.
The chance emphasised the French side's grip on the game as Olympiacos struggled to break down a stubborn Monaco defence and relied increasingly on individual efforts. It was the visitors who came close again after 31 minutes, Adebayor breaking deep in the area only to shoot wide.
Olympiacos came out positively after the restart and unsettled Monaco when Pantos broke free on the left side of the area, but Okkas could only direct the full-back's low cross straight at Roma. Urged on by a capacity crowd, Olympiacos began to impose themselves on the visitors and finally found a way to outwit Monaco's tactical approach, with Giovanni's free-kick from the edge of the box on the hour curling beyond Roma but thumping against the post.
Olympiacos's pressure forced Deschamps to strengthen his defence shortly afterwards, with Mohamed Kallon making way for Pontus Farnerud. Bajevic responded by sending on midfield player Miloš Maric and striker Nery Castillo for Giovanni and Djordjevic in a bid to reinvigorate his side up front.
Monaco soaked up the pressure and remained composed as time wore on, with Olympiacos largely restricted to set-pieces to threaten the visitors. Just as it seemed that the match would end scoreless, however, Grigorios Georgatos's floated free-kick was flicked on by Georgios Anatolakis and Schürrer was left unmarked in front of goal to thump his shot past Roma and give the home side a valuable victory.
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