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By Kevin Ashby
For the third time in as many Group F matches, a different coach will preside over Olympiakos Piraeus FC as they bid to seize an unlikely place in the UEFA Cup from the grasp of Wednesday's opponents Maccabi Haifa FC.
After three successive failed attempts to negotiate the UEFA Champions League first group stage, Olympiakos gave themselves a superb chance of arresting that statistic by thrashing Bayer 04 Leverkusen 6-2 on Matchday One. Two months and four defeats later Olympiakos face a tall order to reach the UEFA Cup while the German side have qualified along with Manchester United FC from the section.
The man who masterminded that victory against Leverkusen, Panagiotis Lemonis, said at the time: "We cannot be overexcited after this win, nor should we be overly disappointed after any future loss." Yet subsequent away defeats by Haifa and United saw him sacked and replaced by Yiannis Kollias. The caretaker could do little to stem the losing tide with United in Athens and Leverkusen in Germany adding to Olympiakos's woes.
Step forward Srecko Katanec, a man used to dealing with adversity after internal strife overshadowed his Slovenia side's assault on the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The 39-year-old took charge for the first time in the Alpha Ethniki at the weekend, overseeing a 1-1 draw away to co-leaders AEK Athens FC. A promising start which could really blossom if Olympiakos achieve the desired result against Maccabi.
The mathematics are simple: Olympiakos will be eliminated from European competition if they fail to beat Haifa at least 3-0 at the Gipedo Rizoupolis stadium. An away goal would allow Haifa the luxury of being able to concede four goals and still advance - a task deemed "extremely difficult" by Haifa coach Yitzhak Shum. He told uefa.com that his side are determined to score, something they did three times without reply against United last time out.
'More than memories'
The Lithuanian international Raimondas Zutautas, United's chief tormentor with a stunning goal and two assists, is a fortnight into a six week lay-off, leaving Shum to choose between Eyal Almoshnino and Michael Zandberg to play alongside Walid Badir. Nigerian defender Eric Ejiofor has recovered from a knee injury, while Arik Benado is expected to replace Avishay Zano at right-back. Benado said: "We want to end on a high and get something worth more than memories and experience - a place in the UEFA Cup."
'Anything can happen'
Giorgios Anatolakis is Katanec's chief concern and Giorgios Amanatidis stands by to replace his fellow defender who has a stomach strain. Zé Elias is still suspended, so Paraskevas Antzas will partner Christian Karembeu in midfield. Striker Lampros Choutos is still not fit, leaving Giovanni and Alexis Alexandris to find the desired goals. A tall order, but as Katanec said: "Anything can happen in football."
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