Moroccan El Kaabi Reacts As His Late Extra-Time Goal Fires Olympiacos To Europa Conference League Glory Against Fiorentina

  • Ayoub El Kaabi was the hero on the night with an extra-time winner to see Olympiacos edge Fiorentina 1-0 in extra time to win the UEFA Conference League final on Wednesday night. 

  • It is a remarkable achievement from Olympiacos, who were largely the underdogs on their way to the final, facing Fenerbahce, Aston Villa and now Fiorentina.

Raised in Casablanca, El Kaabi left school at the age of 15 and could not imagine he would be able to make a living from football. He worked several different jobs as a carpenter and a builder to help his father

El Kaabi is not a young rising star, however, and he turns 31 next month. He got his first professional contract in his homeland at the age of 23, before signing professional terms with the Moroccan side Racing Athletique Club. It was his debut season in European competition.

 “I learned that one can only reach success through hard work,” he has said.

The Olympiakos forward almost single-handedly dismantled Aston Villa in the semi-finals, netting a hat-trick in the 4-2 win in Birmingham, then scoring both goals in the 2-0 second-leg triumph in Piraeus. Incredibly, though, those five goals are only a third of his total in European competitions this season.

In a tense final at the AEK Arena in Athens, very few chances, the game looked set to go to a penalty shoot-out before El Kaabi popped up with the only goal of the game, as he bravely headed Santiago Hezze's cross into the net on 116 minutes.

The goal prompted a wild scenes of celebration after a lengthy VAR check for offside which was finally confirmed to be a goal.

El Kaabi's strike was his 11th in the Europa Conference League, becoming the first player to score 11 goals in a single UEFA club competition knockout stage.

That saw him break Cristiano Ronaldo's record in 2017 when he fired in ten times for Real Madrid. 

The Moroccan also became the first non-European player to score 14 goals in a major European competition in a single season since Lionel Messi in 2011/12 (also 14).

El Kaabi gave remarks at the UEFA press conference in celebration of the win saying, “we all won it together. We thank all of our people: we are all together, one family.”

Olympiacos midfielder Santiago Hezze also lauded El Kaabi’s performance and his key goal, telling the press: “I crossed, but Ayoub [El Kaabi] made 90% of the goal. He fought until the end for that ball.”

El Kaabi is also a key player in Morocco’s national football team, with head coach Walid Regragui calling him up to the Atlas Lions for the upcoming World Cup 2026 qualifiers against Zambia and the Republic of Congo.

Meanwhile, Olympiacos had dropped down from the Europa League in February and eliminated Aston Villa in the semi-final with five Ayoub El Kaabi goals over two legs.

They became the first Greek side to lift a major European trophy. The only other Greek team to contest a European final saw Panathinakos lose 2-0 to Ajax in the 1971 European Cup final at Wembley.

It was more heartbreak for Fiorentina who had suffered the disappointment of a second straight final defeat in the competition following their 2-1 loss to West Ham United also in stoppage time in Prague just a year ago.

Many thought the time for redemption had finally come for Fiorentina who won their last major trophy in 2001 under an emerging Italian coach, Roberto Mancini.

A year ago, the Italian side lost a Coppa Italia Final to Inter Milan. But this time, it was supposed to be different.

It was also a momentous evening for Olympiacos coach Jose Luis Mendilibar, who lifted the UEFA Europa League as Sevilla coach last season, after joining the faltering La Liga side in March 2023. His Sevilla side defeated Roma on penalties in the final.

He becomes the second manager to triumph in Europe with different clubs in successive seasons after Rafa Benítez, who won the Uefa Cup with Valencia in 2004 and the Champions League with Liverpool 12 months later.

The Spaniard Mendilibar echoed these sentiments of celebration as he expressed pride that his team “achieved something our club have never done before.” He added, “we’re going to celebrate it properly and then we’re going to start working on what comes next.”

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