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Olympiacos makes Greek history with victory over Fiorentina in Conference League final

By Matias Grez, CNN

(CNN) — Olympiacos became the first Greek club in history to win a major European trophy thanks to a 1-0 extra-time win over Fiorentina in Wednesday’s Conference League final.

Striker Ayoub El Kaabi, who has enjoyed a sensational first season in Greece, was the hero for Olympiacos, stooping low to head home Santiago Hezze’s cross in the 116th minute when it looked as though the final was heading to penalties.

The Olympiacos fans at that end of the Agia Sophia Stadium, the home of rival club AEK Athens, erupted but they were made to put their initial celebrations on ice until a long, nerve-racking VAR check finally confirmed the goal.

It was a case of heart-breaking déjà vu for Fiorentina, which was undefeated in this season’s tournament, after losing last year’s Conference League final to West Ham.

“First [European title] for Olympiacos and first for me,” striker Stefan Jovetic, a former Fiorentina player, told TNT Sports. “I’m really proud of my guys. You saw the atmosphere here. I think we did great all year and we deserved this.

“I just want to compliment Fiorentina, two years in a row in the final, it’s an amazing team. It’s a shame for them, they gave their best and I wish them all the best.

“I didn’t know if it [the VAR check] was for a foul or for offside, I was not sure, but when he said offside, I knew it was a goal.”

Jovetic said he “can’t wait” to get back to the “amazing” celebrations that were happening less than 20 kilometers down the road in Piraeus, the port city south of Athens where Olympiacos is based.

Photos and videos showed wild, exuberant scenes as thousands of fans gathered in the streets to celebrate, fireworks and red flare smoke filling the sky.

Olympiacos’ Spanish head coach, Jose Luis Mendilibar, has now won back-to-back European trophies after leading Sevilla to the Europa League title last season.

The victory marks an impressive turnaround for Mendilibar, who was the third manager hired by Olympiacos this season after the team endured a difficult start to the campaign.

That Olympiacos would even be in the final seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago after the team lost 4-1 at home to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the round of 16, but an impressive 6-1 win in the second leg turned the tie around.

Olympiacos followed up that win with an even more impressive penalty shootout victory away to Fenerbahce in a famously hostile atmosphere, before getting the better of Aston Villa in the semifinals.

El Kaabi was the hero then, too, scoring five goals across the two legs against the Premier League side. The Moroccan finishes as the tournament’s top goalscorer with 11 goals in nine games, taking his tally for the season to 33 goals in 50 games across all competitions.

Olympiacos’ win means the team qualifies for next season’s Europa League.

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