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This Tuesday, FC Barcelona will be visiting Olympiacos for the first time ever in an official encounter (kick-off 8.45pm CET). But 55 years ago, the two teams did meet in Athens in a couple of friendly encounters.
That was in January 1962, when the Catalans were invited to play in two matches to inaugurate the newly expanded Nea Filadelfeia stadium. Managed by the great László Kubala, the team had never been to Greece before, and Athens gave them a rapturous welcome for their games against AEK, first, and Olympiacos, second.
A crowd of 40,000 filled the stadium on Thursday – including Princess Sophia of Greece and her husband-to-be, Juan Carlos the future king of Spain. AEK were second in the Greek League at the time, but they were no match for the blaugrana, who waltzed to a 6-0 victory.
The local press was convinced that Barcelona was the best team to ever visit the city, and immediately after the final whistle, there was such a mad rush of supporters trying to buy tickets for the game against Olympiacos two days later that the police had to move in to restore order!
Somehow or other, there were some 5,000 more souls squeezed into the venue for the second match, which saw FC Barcelona win 2-0 thanks to first half goals from Jesús María Pereda and the magnificent Brazilian Evaristo de Macedo.
El Mundo Deportivo insisted that the win could have been much bigger. However, not only were Barcelona under orders to take things easy because in less than 48 hours they had a league fixture at home to Tenerife to think about, but Olympiacos did little more than defend with brutal physicality, and had a laughably partisan referee to help them with the cause.
La Vanguardia, which described the game as "fourteen versus eleven" in reference to the three match officials, weren't too impressed with the referee's explanation for his bizarre officiating. "I'm sorry, but I didn't have much choice" he said.
The papers were also astonished by the amazing noise generated by the home supporters, and especially how “at one point, when an Olympiacos player went down injured on the wing, dozens of fans ran onto the pitch and started hugging and kissing him and carried him back onto the pitch.”
It was the first time they had ever seen their team lose to foreign opposition, but even so the players were carried off the field as heroes when it was over. Losing by just two goals to the mighty FC Barcelona was as good as a victory! And it was four goals fewer than their bitter rivals AEK had conceded!
But perhaps the most incredible thing of all is that archive footage of this historic game has survived – and if you click on the image below you can enjoy a peep through a fascinating window into the past!
Representatives of Greece’s other giant, Panathinaikos, were watching the game, and invited Barça back to the country for a game in May in honour of the royal wedding.
Barça accepted, and turned it into and end-of-season tour, the first game of which was a rematch against Olympiacos. They had seven key players missing as they were representing Spain at the World Cup – and manager Kubala was also in Chile in an official capacity – but they were still expected to win comfortably.
But much to the delight of the home fans, Olympiacos won 1-0. El Mundo Deportivo blamed the defeat on the poor floodlighting and appalling condition of the pitch, but also accepted that Barça simply weren’t aren’t their best.
They picked themselves up to beat AEK Athens and Panathinaikos 5-2 and 2-0 before losing 2-1 to a Salonika XI in the final game.
After that, Barça would not return to Greece until they met PAOK Salonika in the 1975/76 UEFA Cup. It would be even longer until they returned to the country to play Olympiacos. In October 2017, and at long last, the story continues…
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