SC Freiburg began their 2023/24 Europa League season with a 3-2 win over Olympiacos in Piraeus. Roland Sallai, Vincenzo Grifo and Maximilian Philipp scored the goals for the away side.
It was something of a re-run for SCF, as they returned to Piraeus for the second time in two years. The historic port city just south of Athens hosted the team last season, when Freiburg also made a winning start to their European away campaign.
A year ago, Christian Streich’s team were able to deal with the heady atmosphere of the Karaiskakis Stadium and come out as convincing 3-0 victors. Just over 12 months on from that memorable victory, the scoreline had become a lot tighter but the same side took all three points. “We played a good first half, especially on the ball. After the break, we were a bit unsettled and lost the ball too many times, failing to play things out well enough on occasion. It was a real cauldron, an emotional atmosphere and we came through it all in Piraeus. That means I’m pretty satisfied,” concluded Christian Streich in his post-match press conference.
The Breisgau side made two changes in their starting XI to the team which started the 4-2 defeat to Borussia Dortmund, as Kenneth Schmidt replaced the suspended Manuel Gulde and Vincenzo Grifo came in for the injured Michael Gregoritsch. The hosts also made two changes from their last game, as Francisco Ortega and Pep Biel were picked ahead of Quini and Daniel Podence.
Rematch starts at lightning pace
Whilst the home side looked to press high and with intensity from the very first whistle, SCF took a more cautious approach, often running into the Olympiacos back-line a long way from their goal. Despite being cautious, Freiburg were full of pressure themselves and got into the punchy nature of the task at hand. The first big chance of the match fell to the home side, though, as Vincenzo Grifo gave away possession inside his own penalty area – Philipp Lienhart and Maxi Eggestein denied the home side’s attempts with crucial goal-line clearances (6’).
Just three minutes later, the net was bulging at the other end of the pitch as Freiburg took the lead. Roland Sallai pounced onto an under-hit pass out from goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis and coolly dispatched his finish into the far corner to send the travelling support into early ecstasy (9’).
The high-tempo game started to boil over in the middle of the first half, as Sallai’s elbow connected with Santiago Hezze in an aerial duel, with the Olympiacos man forced off with an injury as a result. The home side’s head coach, Diego Martinez, appealed for the referee to go to the VAR monitor, but was booked for dissent as he signalled his dissatisfaction with the officials’ decision. The bubbling home crowd also voiced their unhappiness with loud boos and whistles from the terraces.
El Kaabi equalises, Grifo hits back from the spot
Not long after that chaotic scene, Kostas Fortounis hit the crossbar for Olympiacos from a corner (24’), and a quarter of an hour of pressure would pay off for the home side on 40 minutes. The SCF defence were unable to deal with a cross from the right, and Ayoub El Kaabi managed to lift the ball over Noah Atubolu in goal to net the equaliser.
The home side could even have turned the game around in first-half injury time, if it wasn’t for SCF ‘keeper Atubolu. A misplaced backpass from one of his defenders saw Giorgios Masouras through one-on-one: the young shot-stopper denied a quick-fire second for Olympiacos with a fine reflex stop with his foot (45+2’).
That would not be the final action of the half either, as referee Allard Lindhout would point to the spot for a foul on SCF’s Ritsu Doan inside the area. The home crowd were trying their best to distract Vincenzo Grifo as he laid the ball down, with laser pointers and waving hands, but the Italian kept his cool to fire into the bottom right corner from 12 yards and give his side the lead back, seven minutes into added time.
Olympiacos equalise again before late SCF winner
The tempo did not let up as the second half got underway. The next chance fell to Masouras, who headed onto the roof of Atubolu’s net after 47 minutes, a minute before Lienhart tested Paschalakis from a corner. Generally, it was Freiburg who were more successful in keeping their opponents away from their goal, as this absorbing game finally began to settle down.
As the final 20 minutes approached, it was clear to see how exhausting the heat and the vicious tempo of the game had been for both sides. Silly mistakes and misplaced passes became commonplace, especially among the home side. As such, Olympiacos’ equaliser in the 75th minute came rather against the run of play. It was El Kaabi once again, as he overpowered his man before finding the net from a cross.
The home fans were in full voice with 15 to go, but it was not long before SCF hit the front once more. A corner in from the left found Maximilian Philipp at the back post. He took the ball down well before finding the finish to give Freiburg the lead for the third time in the game, this time in the 86th minute. With three points to protect, the SC defence let nothing past them, and the final whistle came with a deep sigh of relief as all three points were confirmed to be heading back to Freiburg.
Up next for Christian Streich and co. is a trip to fellow European adventurers Eintracht Frankfurt, with kickoff at 17:30 CEST on Sunday afternoon. In the Europa League, SCF welcome West Ham United to the Europa-Park Stadion on matchday 2. The English side, Conference League winners last season, kicked off their group stage with a 3-1 win at home to Backa Topola.
Photo: SC Freiburg
|Olympiacos: Paschalakis - Rodinei, Retsos, Freire, Ortega (78', Quini) - Hezze (24', Iborra), Pep Biel (46', Podence), Camara - Masouras (61', Jovetic), El Kaabi, Fortounis (78', Solbakken)|
|Head Coach: Diego Martinez|
|Unused Substitutes: Tzolakis, Scarpa, El Arabi, Alexandropoulos, Vrousai, Porozo, Ntoi|
|SC Freiburg: Atubolu - Kübler, Ginter, Lienhart, Schmidt (54', Sildillia) - Doan (90+2', Adamu), Eggestein, Höfler, Grifo (76', Weißhaupt) - Sallai (76', Philipp), Höler (90+2', Keitel)|
|Head Coach: Christian Streich|
|Unused Substitutes: Müller, Sauter, Röhl, Makengo, Breunig|
|Goals: 0-1 Sallai (9'), 1-1 El Kaabi (40'), 1-2 Grifo (45+7'), 2-2 El Kaabi (75'), 2-3 Philipp (86')|
|Yellow Cards: Diego Martinez (on the bench), El Kaabi, Podence - Höler, Schmidt, Sallai|
|Referee: Allard Lindhout (Niederlande)|