Real Sociedad de Fútbol marked their UEFA Champions League debut in the best possible fashion, defeating Greek title-holders Olympiacos CFP 1-0.
Last year's Primera División runners-up emerged from the wilderness of two decades outside top-level European football with the three points they craved in Group D. However, the Greek team proved to be solid and well-organised opponents and provided stern resistance until the 80th minute, when they conceded a penalty as Darko Kovacevic was brought down by Athanasios Kostoulas. The Serbo-Montenegrin international striker got up to slot the spot-kick past Theofanis Katergiannakis for a historic goal.
Real, whose 2-0 defeat of Real Racing Club Santander on Saturday proved ideal preparation, lined up with Óscar de Paula in attack, despite the fact that Turkish forward Nihat Kahveci was available after recovering from a knee injury. Spanish international midfield player Xabi Alonso - so instrumental in last season's domestic success - also returned. For Olympiacos, Christian Karembeu was drafted into defence because of injuries to Paraskevas Antzas and Christos Patsatzoglou.
The visitors forced the Basque team on to the defensive almost immediately, Predrag Djordjevic darting down the left flank promisingly in the third minute. The midfield player cut into the penalty area and went down, but the referee waved play on. Djordjevic then threatened from a free-kick soon after, but his shot was blocked by the defensive wall.
Xabi Alonso, meanwhile, proved the creative force for Real. The Spanish international, who hails from an illustrious football family - he is the youngest son of former Spain stalwart Periko Alonso - curled in a free-kick in the 29th minute which Kovacevic diverted wide of the target. Minutes later, Xabi Alonso almost freed José Barkero with a crossfield ball which was only just intercepted.
It was Barkero who fashioned the most presentable opportunity of the opening period, whipping in a cross which Darkovic connected with cleanly and powerfully, forcing an impressive fingertip save from Katergiannakis.
The vociferous home supporters at the Anoeta were hoping for a breakthrough in the second half and Raynald Denoueix's side emerged from the interval determined to press home their advantage. The first evidence of their more positive attitude came in the 49th minute when Barkero's purposeful cross was intercepted by Karembeu. The ball was deflected goalwards, but again Katergiannakis was equal to it, producing another excellent stop.
Then, however, it was the turn of the visitors to go close, as Giovanni climbed high to meet a left-wing cross with his head in the 55th minute, although his effort failed to trouble goalkeeper Sander Westerveld. At this stage, Denoueix opted to inject some guile into his attack with the introduction of Nihat. The tactic worked admirably and the tricky striker, who scored 23 goals last season, ran Olympiacos ragged in the final stages, and was inevitably involved in the move which resulted in the decisive penalty.
Real travel to Istanbul to face Galatasaray SK in their next match in the section on 30 September. Olympiacos receive last year's beaten finalists, Juventus FC, at home the same day, the Turin side having defeated Galatasaray 2-1 tonight.
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