Who is Ayoub El Kaabi - Olympiakos' Moroccan Europa Conference League final hero?

El Kaabi's 116th-minute header to beat Fiorentina saw Olympiakos become the first Greek team to win a major European trophy

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Olympiakos became the first Greek club to win a European title after a 1-0 extra-time victory over Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday.

Moroccan striker Ayoub El Kaabi scored the winning goal in the 116th minute that allowed Jose Luis Mendilibar's side to make history in the home of local rivals AEK Athens.

Prior to Olympiakos' success, Panathinaikos were the only club from Greece to make a European final when they lost to a Johan Cruyff-inspired Ajax in the 1971 European Cup decider.

Who is Ayoub El Kaabi?

The much-travelled 30-year-old centre-forward has enjoyed a breakout season in Greece, scoring the goal that took Olympiakos to a first European trophy.

Born in Zagora in southern Morocco, El Kaabi moved to Casablanca with his family as a child. The family hit hard times and El Kaabi was forced to leave school at age 15, becoming an apprentice carpenter to help support his parents.

He signed his first professional football contract at age 21 with Racing de Casablanca. After helping RAC gain promotion to the top tier of Moroccan football, he switched to RS Berkane, helping the club win the 2018 Moroccan Throne Cup.

In 2018 he switched to China, joining Herbei, for a fee of €6.5 million. He was loaned to Wydad on an initial six-month loan before joining the Moroccan club as a free agent in 2020. A return of 18 goals in 29 matches prompted a move to Turkey with Hatayspor in 2021, where El Kaabi netted 26 times across two seasons.

The striker moved to Qatari side Al Sadd on loan during the 2022/23 campaign before moving to current club Olympiakos ahead of the 2023/24 season.

How has he done in Greece?

Pretty well. Seventeen-goals in 30 league appearances is a more-than-healthy return, although Olympiakos finished only third in the Greek Super League, six points behind champions PAOK.

It is in Europe where El Kaabi has really shone, though.

Olympiakos stuttered out of the Europa League group phase in December and, on entering the Conference League, El Kaabi set about making it his personal theatre.

He netted home and way in Olympiakos’ 2-0 aggregate win over Ferencvaros in the play-off before a thumping header sealed the first comeback of a last-16 tie that had swung wildly away from the Greek club with their 4-1 loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the first leg. In the second, it would be El Kaabi who made it 4-4 on aggregate. He then restored parity for 5-5 with a glorious overhead volley to take the tie into extra time. Olympiakos won 6-1 win on the night.

In the semi-finals against Aston Villa, El Kaabi's composed finishing and alert movement behind the last line of defence were key to two virtuoso performances. El Kaabi added two goals in the second leg to the hat-trick he scored at Villa Park in the first to put Olympiakos into their first European final.

With the game against Fiorentina goalless after 90 minutes and with penalties seemingly certain, El Kaabi stopped to head home in the 116th minute for his 16th goal in European competition this season.

The roar that greeted the validation of El Kaabi's goal, following a lengthy VAR check, in the 120th minute from the majority Greek fans in Athens showed what the occasion meant to the club.

Is he part of the Morocco national team?

El Kaabi has represented the Atlas Lions 33 times, scoring 10 goals, but largely plays second fiddle to Youssef En-Nesyri under Walid Regragui.

He was one of few local-based players to travel to Russia as part of the 2018 World Cup squad, where Morocco exited at the group stage, but was omitted by Regragui from the squad that four years later became the first African and Arab team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup.

He was used only sparingly as Morocco bowed out the 2023 African Cup of Nations at the last-16 stage. El Kaabi has, however, been named in the Morocco squad for next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Zambia and Congo.

Updated: May 30, 2024, 6:05 AM