The Europa League has reached the play-off stage which means a whole host of teams are striving to reach the lucrative group stage. One of the key ties is Olympiacos vs FC Cukaricki, as the Greek giants attempt to make an impact in Europe once again.
Olympiacos will be without defender Rodinei after he was sent off late on in their last round with Genk. That was one of the ties of the round as Olympiacos scored in the first minute of the first leg, and the 95th minute of the second leg to secure a 2-1 aggregate win, when many felt the Belgian side would progress.
Young Sporting midfielder Sotiris Alexandropoulos was the man who scored that vital match-winning goal in Belgium and he’s made a bright start since joining the Greek club this summer on loan. Moroccan forward Ayoub El Kaabi will lead the line and his move from Al-Sadd, also this summer, is a sign of how much the squad has changed since last term.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, given they finished in third last season in the Greek Super League, five points off eventual champions and arch-rivals Panathinaikos. The side owned by Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis have brought in former Red Gustavo Scarpa, who should also be a talented addition to this new-look squad. 21-year-old Croatian winger Ivan Brnić was brought in this summer for £1m, and he could be a star of the future if he makes his name in the Greek capital.
This Olympiacos side, which also now has Vincente Iborra the experienced Spanish midfielder may take some time to gel, but they should be able to do so after a convincing win in this Europa League qualifier.
They come up against FC Cukaricki, a team that finished third in the Serbian Super Liga last season. They’ve been in Europa League or Europa League Conference qualifiers every year for the past three seasons but are yet to make it all the way to the group stage. However, they will look to shock Europe by reaching new heights in this domestic competition.
Cukaricki’s coach Igor Matic will have concerns going into this one. Last time out against IMT in the league, they were hammered 3-0 away from home despite registering 66% possession. Their defensive frailties are obvious, and they conceded two goals from two shots on target in the 2-2 draw with Javor last weekend.
All of this points to a handsome home win, especially given that the Greek giants will want to get this tie done and dusted and rest players ahead of the second leg. The bigger handicaps are tempting, but we are backing Olympiacos to win with a -2 handicap. That means a win by three goals will see the bet settled as a winner, which will be the key aim for Martinez.