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El Kaabi hits hat-trick as Olympiakos shock Aston Villa, Fiorentina edge Brugge

El Kaabi hits hat-trick as Olympiakos shock Aston Villa, Fiorentina edge Brugge

Sports

El Kaabi coolly sent Olsen the wrong way from the spot to complete his hat-trick

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Birmingham (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Ayoub El Kaabi scored a hat-trick as Olympiakos stunned Aston Villa 4-2 on Thursday to close in on the final of the Europa Conference League on home soil in Athens later this month.

Despite being in their first European semi-final for 42 years, Villa were favourites to lift the trophy, thanks in large part to manager Unai Emery's record as a four-time Europa League winner.

Prince William was among the Villa fans left disappointed in the stands as a bad night for Emery's men capped a miserable season for English clubs in Europe.

Villa are the sole survivors from the Premier League at the semi-final stage of the three European competitions. "Everything that could go wrong did go wrong tonight," said Villa captain John McGinn.

"Just mistakes all round tonight. We take responsibility but it is up to us to go to Greece next week and turn it around because we are more than capable."

Olympiakos showed no signs of nerves in their first ever European semi-final with El Kaabi taking his tally for the season to 30 goals.

The Moroccan striker was initially flagged offside for the opener on 17 minutes but a VAR check showed he had timed his run perfectly to slot in from Chiquinho's flick.

Villa are set for even more glamorous European nights next season as they sit fourth in the Premier League and within touching distance of securing Champions League football.

However, signs of fatigue have shown in recent weeks at the end of a gruelling campaign and they were cut open easily once more for Olympiakos' second. El Kaabi sprung the offside trap again to round Robin Olsen and double the visitors' lead. Momentum looked to have swung back in favour of the hosts either side of half-time.

Ollie Watkins reduced the deficit with his 27th goal of the season in first-half stoppage time before Moussa Diaby levelled when he caught out Konstantinos Tzolakis at his near post Yet, Villa were only level for four minutes as Douglas Luiz needlessly raised his arm to block at an Olympiakos corner.

Emery insisted on the eve of the game that he had full faith in understudy goalkeeper Olsen, but Villa badly missed the presence of the suspended Emi Martinez, whose penalty heroics had won a tense quarter-final against Lille.

El Kaabi coolly sent Olsen the wrong way from the spot to complete his hat-trick. The Swedish stopper was then wrong-footed when Santiago Hezze's strike deflected off Ezri Konsa. Luiz had the chance to atone for his earlier error and set up a grandstand finish when Villa were awarded a penalty six minutes from time.

But the Brazilian's effort hit the post to leave Emery needing to produce a miracle in Piraeus next week to add another European trophy to his CV. Fiorentina will take a slender lead into the other semi-final as M'Bala Nzola's stoppage time strike earned a 3-2 win over 10-man Club Brugge.

Last season's finalists went ahead early on in spectacular style through Riccardo Sottil's curling effort. Hans Vanaken quickly levelled for Brugge from the penalty spot but Fiorentina were back in front before half-time through Andrea Belotti.

Two quickfire yellow cards for Raphael Onyedika on the hour gave the Belgians a tough task just to keep the tie alive. However, the 10 men equalised straight away when Brentford-bound striker Igor Thiago fired into the far corner.

The visitors' resistence was finally broken when M'Bala swept home after his first shot came back off the post, but Brugge still have all to play for with home advantage on May 8.