One minute of injury time left. Evandro Roncatto receives the ball somewhere between the halfway line and the penalty box and takes on the opposition defence. Meanwhile, Laborde sprints away behind him, making a diagonal run that has Olympiakos defender Pina caught in two minds. Roncatto sees the gap and dribbles away into the box to beat the onrushing goalkeeper and secure the win. It was anything but an easy evening trip to Nicosia though.
This was a game most of us had gone in with due concern. Last year, both our triumphs over Omonia had sent our expectations to the sky, only for those expectations to come crashing down to earth in the next game on both occasions. Not only that, but Ilic and Jorge, our central defensive partnership, would both be watching the game from the stands. Thankfully, Jurgen Colin recovered just in time to take one of the two slots; the big question was who would partner him. In the end, Levy opted for the experience of Skopelitis –moved back from midfield- rather than gamble on the inexperienced Economou. Laban, captain for the day, started next to Alexa in midfield while Barak Yitzhaki was preferred on the right of the attack instead of Calvo.
One would think that with Laban on the side we would be able to control possession and impose ourselves for the first time in four games. But it wasn’t to be. Once again our passing was wayward and Olympiakos, pressing high, with more bite in the tackle and willing to run the extra mile, were able to gain possession and probe forward. Still, it mattered little in the end. The Yitzhaki-Laborde-Rezek triumvirate, even on an off day, has enough quality to overcome even the most stubborn of defences. On 24 minutes our three forwards, having swapped positions earlier, combined wonderfully to produce the opening goal. Yitzhaki put Rezek through on the left and the Czech, dragging the whole Olympiakos defence out of position, played a diagonal ball back to Yitzhaki who suddenly found himself with just the keeper to beat. Instead of trying to do so the Israeli forward selflessly knocked a side pass that evaded both the keeper and a defender attempting a last-minute sliding tackle to the path of the oncoming Laborde, who simply passed it into an empty net.
The hosts, though, would not capitulate as easily as they had done last week against their neighbours Apoel. Our defensive weaknesses were exposed nine minutes later from a set-piece, after a foul by Alexa that earned him another needless yellow card -his fourth in seven games- making him ineligible for the upcoming local derby against Salamina. Castro floated the free-kick in the box and forward starlet Pieros Soteriou, marked by Laban of all people, rose unimpeded to head the ball in.
Like last year, a Rezek goal right after the restart gave us control of the match. On 49 minutes the Czech overhit a cross from the right but still found Laborde on the left side of the box. With a sudden burst of acceleration the winger left his marker stranded and got to the by-line. His initial pass was blocked by a defender but the ball fell kindly to Laborde’s feet again. Seeing Alexa making a late run, he played a square ball across the box that the Romanian just missed, but Rezek, having raced at the far post, stuck a leg out that hit the ball into the top corner. It was the fifth successive game he scored, taking his tally for the season to six.
The pattern of the game did not change much, however. Levy had taken off the injured Laban at half-time and brought Ohayon on. The Israeli seemed more confident on the ball and helped us keep the ball more, but it wasn’t enough. Olympiakos were determined to salvage a point and with Brazilian Mercio pulling the strings in midfield they kept asking questions of our defence, Portuguese forward Henrique coming closest to leveling the score on 73 minutes. Desperate for us not to keep giving the ball away but without any midfielders on the bench, Levy threw more forwards who could keep the ball in, with Okkas and Roncatto coming on for Spadacio and Rezek respectively.
The Cypriot veteran missed a great chance to ease our nerves on 83 minutes after being put through alone on goal by Laborde. Roncatto though, made no such mistake in injury time. At the post-match press conference, Levy bemoaned our inability to hold possession. It’s something we’re all concerned about, but if the goals keep coming the way they have so far, there won’t be many complaints on the stands.