By Paris Ayiomamatis at the Georgios Kamaras
Real Sociedad de Fútbol moved closer to the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds after a 2-2 draw that ended Olympiacos CFP's interest in the competition.
When Nery Alberto Castillo put the home side ahead 19 minutes from the end, it seemed their campaign was saved, but Gabriel Schurrer levelled within three minutes for ten-man Real. The Spanish team will be through unless Galatasaray SK beat Juventus FC next Tuesday. Even if that happens they only need to draw with the Turkish visitors in their final game.
Olympiacos had the first chance of the match on five minutes when Brazilian striker Giovanni threaded through the Real defence to find Anastasios Pantos in the area, but the youngster miskicked. In the absence of suspended Predrag Djordjevic down the left flank, the hosts seemed to have their wings clipped, and increasingly relied on the inspiration of Giovanni and the experience of Christian Karembeu in midfield.
Happy to defend, Real's first real opening came from a Bittor Alkiza volley on 13 minutes which flew over Theofanis Katergiannakis's goal. But roared on by a typically noisy home crowd, Olympiacos pushed on and went close again as Castillo just failed to connect on the edge of the box with a Giorgios Georgiadis through-ball.
Real get closer
Moments later Giovanni saw his effort to lob Sander Westerveld, who was off his line, go agonisingly wide. But despite allowing the hosts to play, Real gradually began to bring their game together and seemed poised to strike when Valeri Karpin found space down the right, but Nihat Kahveci could only head the Russian's cross into the hands of Katergiannakis.
The fleet-footed Nihat made his presence felt again after running beyond the Olympiacos defence, but his low drive at the near post was blocked by Katergiannakis. The visitors were looking increasingly dangerous on the counterattack - a threat which had been raised by Olympiacos coach Oleh Protasov before the match. His fears were realised just after the half-hour when Igor Gabilondo broke free down the left and comfortably beat Katergiannakis who was already outside his area.
Olympiacos almost levelled after Georgiadis unleashed a blistering shot which forced a spectacular save from Westerveld. But it was Real who looked the more likely scorers until the half-time whistle. And things changed little after the interval, with Castillo twice creating space in the box but failing to trouble Westerveld.
However, the game changed when Ieroklis Stoltidis shot in fiercely from the edge of the box to bring Olympiacos level. Real suffered a further blow nine minutes later when striker Darko Kovacevic was given his marching orders after receiving a second yellow card.
The capacity crowd then erupted as Castillo broke free down the left, and the 19-year-old ran clear of Westerveld to send the ball into the back of the net. However, Real's response was perfect and Schurrer volleyed a cross past Katergiannakis.
With a valuable point in their hands, Real were content to sit back and wait for the final whistle as the deflated hosts tried desperately to make an impact and save their campaign. But time ran out, and the UEFA Cup is the best they can hope for after they visit already-qualified Juventus on Matchday 6.