Schalke capped off a confident display to crown its return to the Champions League by dispatching Group B opponent Olympiakos 2-1 at the Karaiskakis Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Goals from Benedikt Howedes and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar sealed the tie, with Olympiakos netting scant consolation with a single goal from Djamel Abdoun.
Despite the frenzied atmosphere created by the home fans, the opening half proved to be a dour, cagey affair, with both teams cautiously probing forward to test for tell-tale signs of their opponent's weaknesses.
Paulo Machado signaled the Greek Superleague champion's intent when he advanced confidently down the left in the fifth minute, but Euro 2012 revelation Kyriakos Papadopoulos was on hand to head clear the danger against his former employer.
Spurred on by the cauldron of home support, Olympiakos continued to search for avenues to break into their visitors' area, as Rafik Djebbour narrowly missed connecting with captain Vasilis Torosidis' searching cross. Schalke was not content to let the Greeks have it all their way however, as Netherlands international Huntelaar gave keeper Balasz Megyeri a reminder his team was very much on the pitch with a headed half-chance in the 17th minute.
Olympiakos was not to be rattled, and Jose Holebas sent a free kick from distance inches wide of the post. Portuguese midfielder Machado was giving Schalke counterparts Jermaine Jones and Roman Neustadter the run-around, capping off a solid start to the game by whipping an excellent cross to Djebbour, who escaped the attentions of his marker to blast just wide.
The close shave only served to jolt Huub Stevens men into action, culminating in a move that saw Christian Fuchs round off a spate of pressure by exploiting the home team's insecurity in defending the flanks, launching a ball into the area that was cleared with some difficulty by Francois Modesto.
Schalke skipper Howedes had the pleasure of being the first man added to the referee's book, picking up a yellow card for roughhousing with Machado in the center in the 30th minute. Nevertheless, The Royal Blues persisted in stamping their mark on the game, and it was via a foray forward that led to a moment of controversy.
Papadopoulos thought he had earned Schalke the opener when he rose to challenge Megyeri for a ball, subsequently depositing it in the back of the net, but the match official disallowed the goal for a supposed infringement by the Greece international. The Bundesliga side was not to be denied for long though, and Howedes rose highest from a corner to truly gift his side the lead in the 41st minute.
With the goal serving to galvanism the German's spirits, Schalke emerged from the halftime break with increased potency, nearly doubling the scoreline when Megyeri fumbled a routine cross into the path of summer signing Tranquillo Barnetta, who from 10 yards somehow managed to blaze the ball high over the bar.
It was Olympiakos' turn to show it would not yield in front of the own fans now, as Joel Matip's poor clearance attempt fell to Djebbour, who subsequently saw his goal-bound effort cleared off the line by the recovering Cameroon international.
Ensuing chaos in play suddenly led to Leonardo Jardim's outfit drawing level in the 58th minute in a bizarre manner, after a long punt from goal was contested but missed by either of Howedes and Djebbour, enabling Abdoun to sweep home in the easiest of manners.
As momentum in the match continued running high, Huntelaar, who had been well shackled to that point, immediately handed his team the initiative again once play restarted. A blindingly-quick avenue into Olympiakos' box paid dividends, as the hitman clinically settled matters past the stranded custodian.
The former AC Milan striker then went from hero to villain, missing a penalty after Barnetta was brought down in the box following his sublime piece of skill. Huntelaar stepped up to take the spot kick and beat Megyeri, only to see the ball come off the post.
Barcelona-loanee Ibrahim Afellay came on to lend some cutting-edge as Schalke poured forward in a bid to seal the match for good, but some alert goalkeeping foiled Huntelaar at close range, after Jones had put him in in the 85th minute. With the home side realizing all was lost, the match slowed to walking pace, in an otherwise uneventful night.
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- Paulo Machado
- Rafik Djebbour