Olympiacos CFP 1-0 Liverpool FC Ieroklis Stoltidis's header takes Olympiacos to the top of Group A.
By Paris Ayiomamitis at the Georgios Karaiskaki stadium
Olympiacos CFP moved to the top of UEFA Champions League Group A as a first-half goal by Ieroklis Stoltidis was enough to thwart Liverpool FC.
It was Olympiacos's first win against English opposition in more than three decades, and a well deserved one with Rivaldo the star in midfield. It was his free-kick which provided the opportunity for Stoltidis to head home the winner. The Greek side were twice denied by the woodwork and even had a string of chances to increase their lead.
Olympiacos coach Dusan Bajevic chose to play a 4-4-2 formation, and made several changes to the side that earned a goalless draw at RC Deportivo La Coruña a fortnight ago. Anastasios Pantos moved to the left side of defence in place of Stylianos Venetidis, while Dimitrios Mavrogenidis started on the right. Bajevic also welcomed back left-winger Grigorios Georgatos and central defender Gabriel Schürrer.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez played Stephen Warnock in place of Harry Kewell, who has just recovered from a thigh strain, while Dietmar Hamann deputised for the injured Steven Gerrard. However, it was Olympiacos who started the brighter and seized the initiative by dominating the central areas.
They rattled the visitors after five minutes when Cypriot striker Ioannis Okkas found space inside the penalty area, danced past Sami Hyypiä and hit the post from close range. The Piraeus club continued to surge forward as Liverpool struggled to find their feet, with Milan Baroš often isolated up front.
Olympiacos finally took the lead on 17 minutes when midfield player Stoltidis rose above the defence to head in Rivaldo's deflected free-kick, much to the delight of the capacity crowd. They continued to press, and came close to doubling their lead on 25 minutes when Rivaldo unleashed a blistering shot from outside the box which only just missed its intended target.
A further chance came ten minutes before the break as Jerzy Dudek's clearance fell to Georgatos, a constant threat down the left flank. He crossed to Giovanni, but the Brazilian's close-range header went narrowly wide.
Olympiacos picked up where they left off in the first half and continued to dominate in the opening stages of the second period, with Georgatos going close with a left-footed volley on 46 minutes. A troubled Benítez responded by sending on Kewell for Warnock on the left.
The English club began to enjoy more of the possession but rarely looked dangerous, a free-kick from Riise being the closest they came to troubling Antonios Nikopolidis in the opening exchanges of the second half.
Bajevic reshuffled his pack on 71 minutes, sending on defender Venetidis for Mavrogenidis and midfield player Georgios Georgiadis for Giovanni. A minute later Benítez boosted his forward line by bringing on Djibril Cissé for Josemi, as Liverpool attempted to find a way past a solid Olympiacos defence.
But it was the home team who continued to create the better chances and Stoltidis nearly scored a second after 75 minutes when his header, from a Rivaldo corner, eluded Dudek but hit the crossbar.
Nikopolidis stands firm
Benítez's last gamble was to bring on Salif Diao for Hamann in the closing stages but, even with Olympiacos being reduced to ten men following the dismissal of Anastasios Pantos for two yellow cards after 82 minutes, it was not enough for Liverpool to find a way past Nikopolidis. They are now second in the group, a point behind Olympiacos.