Aston Villa 2-4 Olympiacos: Visitors claim stunning Villa Park semifinal victory

Olympiacos will take a two-goal lead into the second leg of their UEFA Europa Conference League semifinal against Aston Villa in a week’s time back on the familiarity of Greek soil – primarily down to a hat-trick from Moroccan international Ayoub El Kaabi, in addition to a heavily deflected strike from Santiago Hezze.

As it happened

Unbeaten in seven matches across all competitions, Olympiacos flew out of the traps against the backdrop of a sold-out Villa Park as only Robin Olsen’s fingertips – deputising for the suspended Emiliano Martínez – prevented Vicente Iborra from breaking the deadlock in the fourth minute.

In an all-action opening sequence, Olsen’s opposite number, Konstantinos Tzolakis, produced arguably an equally expert stop to deny the in-form Morgan Rogers, as the Greek goalkeeper redirected the attacking assets’ low curling effort around the post.

Leon Bailey had the ball in the back of the net soon after, however, referee Marco Guida’s eagle eye came to the visitors’ rescue as he ruled out the Jamaican’s close-range header due to a tug on the back of Iborra’s shirt by Clément Lenglet.

Nonetheless, Olympiacos achieved what their hosts were unable to do in the 16th minute, as Chiquinho’s delicious defence-splitting delivery was finished brilliantly by El Kaabi – adjudged by VAR to have stayed on the right side of the last defender by no more than a millimetre.

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Now with six goals in this season’s UECL campaign, El Kaabi was celebrating a seventh soon after. Again exploiting the hosts’ weakened backline – without Martínez and Pau Torres – the Thrylos’ top scorer clinically converted a sublimely-struck strike beyond the grasp of Olsen.

Despite the continuous threat of a third Olympiacos goal and potentially a tie-ending scenario, Villa got themselves back into the game in added-on time at the end of the first half. A combination of Matty Cash’s persistent build-up play down the right-hand side and Moussa Diaby’s exquisite pass through to Ollie Watkins allowed their top goalscorer this season to fire into the far corner past Tzolakis.

Determined to get back on level terms as soon as physically possible, the Villans did that seven minutes after the restart as Diaby’s instinctive strike beat Tzolakis at his near post from the most impossible of angles.

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However, it did not take José Luis Mendilibar’s side long to restore their lead as El Kaabi confidently completed his hat-trick, and in the process, possession of the match ball from the penalty spot after Douglas Luiz had handled in the area.

Fortuitously, Olympiacos extended their advantage further in the 67th minute as Hezze’s audacious effort from distance took a decisive deflection off Ezri Konsa’s back on its way into the back of the net – leaving Olsen with no chance of making a save.

Luiz then failed to redeem himself at the opposite end of Villa Park with time running out for Emery’s side to salvage something from the 1st leg, as his penalty clipped the outside of the post after David Carmo had fouled second-half substitute Jhon Duran.

A disappointing night for Villa – which ultimately saw their unbeaten UECL record at home this season conclude – ended with 2,300 travelling Olympiacos fans celebrating at the sound of the final whistle.

The lineups

AVL: Olsen; Cash, Konsa, Lenglet, Digne; Luiz, McGinn, Rogers, Diaby; Bailey, Watkins

OLY: Tzolakis; Ortega, Carmo, Retsos, Rodinei; Hezze, Iborra, Chiquinho; Podence, Fortounis; El Kaabi