Pedro Neto let out an instinctive roar of delight as his deflected free-kick hit the Olympiacos net that echoed around the virtually empty Karaiskakis Stadium.
In more normal times, the goal would have given Wolves an excellent platform to try to move into quarter-finals of the Europa League by beating Olympiacos at Molineux next week – yet these are not normal times.
We cannot know when, or if, that second leg will be played, or whether the goals from the Wolves substitute or Youssef El Arabi, who gave 10-man Olympiacos the lead, will count for anything. Olympiacos defender Ruben Semedo was sent off in the first half. Nobody knows when that suspension will be served.
Wolves came from a goal down to rescue a draw in the first leg against 10-man Olympiacos
Substitute Pedro Neto saw his deflected long-range effort go in after Joao Moutinho’s lay-off
Youssef el Arabi had given the hosts the lead after converting Guilherme’s low cut-back
After a quiet opening half an hour Ruben Semedo was sent off for hosts Olympiacos
As sports events and competitions across the globe were postponed, from the Australian Grand Prix to La Liga, from the ATP Tour to the NBA, UEFA would not budge.
Even with fans locked out of stadiums, even with Wolves highly reluctant to travel, even with the world in the midst of a public health crisis whose consequences we cannot know, UEFA would not budge.
Few would argue with Wolves coach Nuno Espirito Santo’s assessment before the match. ‘You play a game of football and then realise what is happening worldwide – people dead and dying,’ he said. ‘Then we play a game of football – it’s absurd.’
The game was the latest to be played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus outbreak
Portuguese centre-back Semedo was shown a red card after fouling Diogo Jota as the last man
Adama Traore struggled to impose himself in the opening stages but grew into the game
There were rumours in Athens before the match that UEFA had called a halt to the Europa League, but they were false. Nothing, apparently, was more important than last-16, first leg ties in Europe’s second tier competition.
Olympiacos (4-3-3): Jose Sa 7; Elabdellaoui 6.5, Ruben Semedo 5, Ba 6.5, Tsimikas 6.5; Guilherme 7, Bouchalskis 6, Camara 6; Masouras 6 (Cisse, 33), El Arabi 6.5 (Fortounis 74, 6), Valbuena 6 (Gaspar 84)
Subs not used: Allain, Lovera, Torosidis, Randjelovic
Goals: El Arabi 54
Bookings: Jose Sa
Sent off: Semedo
Manager: Pedro Martins 6
Wolves (3-4-3): Rui Patricio 6; Boly 6, Coady 6, Saiss 6; Doherty 6 (Neto 46, 7), Neves 6.5 Moutinho 6 (Dendoncker 86), Vinagre 6 (Podence 79; Traore 6, Jimenez 6, Jota 6.5
Subs not used: Ruddy, Jordao, Dendoncker, Kilman, Buur
Goals: Pedro Neto 67
Bookings: Doherty, Coady
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo 9
Referee: Clement Turpin 6
What of the match? With nobody beyond a handful of security staff, Olympiacos and Wolves officials – the Premier League club brought a 52-strong party here – the sounds of the Wolves players shouting to each other during the warm-up as coach Joao Lapa led a fitness session was interrupted by the eerie sound of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck over the PA system – like a DJ playing hits to an empty dancefloor.
Then, UEFA’s message about making football more inclusive for all was piped into the deserted ground. Admirable, of course, but nobody was listening. The Olympiacos stadium announcer said he hoped ‘you enjoy the match’. Who was he speaking to, exactly?
Despite the ‘behind-closed-doors’ edict, Olympiacos still had about 40 fans in the ground, who lent their team noisy support. UEFA rules allow for a maximum of 20 VIP club, yet these were not Roy Keane’s prawn-sandwich brigade, as they jeered Wolves’ players throughout.
Given the circumstances, it was no surprise that the teams struggled to force openings in the early part of the game – and then from Wolves’ first dangerous attack, in the 28th minute, Olympiacos were reduced to 10 men.
Referee Clement Turpin played advantage as Adama Traore was fouled, allowing Raul Jimenez to send Diogo Jota running at Ruben Semedo. As Semedo went to challenge, Jota tumbled on the edge of the box, and Turpin showed a straight red card – which looked harsh.
Pedro Neto replaced Matt Doherty at the start of the second half, with Adama Traore moving to wing-back. The home side had barely threatened before the break but they took the lead nine minutes after it.
Midfielder Ruben Neves’ free-kick was one of the visitors’ few chances in the first half
As Ruben Vinagre and Joao Moutinho switched off, Guilherme powered into the box and his cut-back eluded goalkeeper Rui Patricio, allowing El Arabi to tap in at the far post, and several players and staff from the Olympiacos bench ran on to the pitch to congratulate him.
Wolves tried to respond and Jimenez should have done better after Neto found him in space 10 yards out, only for Jose Sa to make a sharp save. Then Ruben Neves was just off target with a curling effort from 25 yards. Wolves got their reward in the 67th minute when Moutinho took a short free-kick to Neto, whose low shot from 25 yards deflected off Andreas Bouchalakis and in.
‘Now we’re going to think about West Ham, but we keep on working,’ said Nuno. ‘Now we have West Ham on Sunday and hopefully next Thursday we’ll play again.’ Nobody – least of all Nuno – believes that to be true.
When Neto scored, Nuno did not move a muscle on the touchline, even as his coaches celebrated. The gesture was as eloquent as everything he said before the game. UEFA should be ashamed.
But Youssef el Arabi kept up his excellent record against English clubs by netting the opener
Wolves however responded and got their just rewards when Neto scored from long range