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Olympiakos beats Fiorentina 1-0 after extra time to win the Europa Conference League

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Setting off wild celebrations in Athens, Olympiakos won Greece’s first European club title by beating Fiorentina 1-0 with a goal in extra time of the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday.

Ayoub El Kaabi provided the dramatic ending, diving to nudge in a last-gasp goal in the second period of extra time, with fans erupting in celebration after a lengthy wait for a VAR check for offside.

“Praise be to God, we promised our supporters we’d do this today and we did it,” El Kaabi said.

The Morocco striker struck in the 116th minute and dropped to his knees as he waited to see if the goal would stand after he met a cross from Santiago Hezze.

El Kaabi finished as the competition’s top scorer on 11 goals in just nine games in the knockout rounds to break a UEFA record he held jointly with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Radamel Falcao. They each scored 10 in a knockout phase of a single season.

The goal decided a game that looked destined for a penalty shootout following an energetic but largely risk-free encounter at AEK Arena, and condemned Fiorentina and its coach Vincenzo Italiano to a second straight defeat in the final of the Europa Conference League after losing last year to West Ham.

“We created chances and had the opportunity to lift the cup but unfortunately it didn’t happen – I’m sorry,” Italiano said. “In Europe it’s not an easy thing to get this far and lose.”

Olympiakos coach Jose Luis Mendilibar secured a second straight European title after winning the Europa League with Sevilla last season.

“It’s an honor to have made all these people happy, I feel immense joy and happiness to have made people feel this way and I dedicate it to them,” Mendilibar said.

“We have achieved something that our club has never achieved before. We will celebrate it and celebrate it the way we should. Then we will start working on what comes next.” Tens of thousands of Olympiakos fans joined boisterous celebrations across the Greek capital after attending outdoor viewing parties. Youths held up lit flares in the port city of Piraeus, near Athens, where the team is based.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described Olympiakos as “a true legend,” adding in an online post: “Olympiakos has won the Europa Conference League and made history! A sensational night for the club itself, but also for Greek football as a whole.”

The third-tier European club competition took place amid a massive security operation, with some 5,000 police officers forming concentric cordons around a northern area of the capital — amid Europe-wide security concerns this summer for major sporting events including the Paris Olympics and European soccer championship in Germany.

The final was briefly marred by scuffles between Fiorentina fans inside the stadium and riot police next to them.

Although the visitors dominated the early stages of the final, Fiorentina goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano kept his team in the game with two impressive fingertip saves to block on-target shots from Daniel Podence in the fourth minute and Stevan Jovetic in the sixth minute of extra time.

El Kaabi, who scored 11 goals in the competition, had been largely sidelined by Fiorentina’s unyielding four-man defense.

Olympiakos players celebrated with 15,000 fans after the game, some holding their young children as golden confetti was fired into the air around the awards podium.

“It’s the best emotion I’ve felt so far in my career,” defender Panagiotis Retsos said. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs but I’m very, very happy to be here.” ___

Nicholas Paphitis and Michael Varaklas in Athens, Greece contributed.


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