Greece has reached the knock-out stages of the World Cup for the first time ever as an injury-time penalty by Giorgos Samaras gave Greece a dramatic 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast to set up a clash with Costa Rica in the round of 16. What luck almost deprived Greece of in this game, through injuries and shots stopped by the bars and posts, the Greeks have earned with their passion and never-say-die approach.
Greece hit the woodwork an amazing three times in what was easily the national team’s best and most attractive game in a World Cup.
Despite changes to faces, in the first half-hour at Fortaleza Greece’s game remained as predictable as it had also been against Colombia and Japan. The new system started paying off later on.
Manager Fernando Santos started without a center forward, opting instead for a trident of Dimitris Salpingidis, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and Giorgos Samaras up front so as to trick the Ivorian defense. The three men kept rotating often confusing their opponents, while partaking at times in this rotation was also left-back Jose Holebas.
The Greeks therefore made a point to exploit the frailties of the Ivory Coast defense, with the runs by Christodoulopoulos from the left being instrumental.
Yet luck turned its back on Greece from the start of the game as influential midfielder Panayiotis Kone pulled a muscle in the 11th minute and was replaced by Andreas Samaris.
As if Kone’s injury was not enough, Greece keeper Orestis Karnezis also suffered back pains around the 18th minute. He just stayed on for another six minutes until substitute Panayiotis Glykos warmed up to replace him.
Greece had to wait until the 33rd minute for its first chance in the game, but what a spectacular moment that was, as a Samaras through-ball fed Holebas and he sent a fearsome shot from the edge of the box to hit the crossbar. Luck is not a Greek word.
But then three minutes from half-time a wonderful one-two between Samaras and Samaris had Samaras offering a great sliding pass to unmarked Samaris on his way into the box and he slotted the ball past Ivorian keeper Boubakar Barry for Greece’s first goal in this World Cup and his first career goal for Greece. It was also the first time ever Greece has scored first in a World Cup game.
Glykos made his first save in the 49th minute to block a Cheick Tiote shot, as the Ivorians started reverting to long-range shots.
Four minutes on, a solo effort by Christodoulopoulos rolled agonizingly wide off the Ivorian post, as the Greek attack continued to ask questions at the African defense. A Salpingidis shot followed in the 58th that Barry fisted over the bar.
Greece got unlucky again in the 68th, when captain Giorgos Karagounis unleashed another shot that once again hit the crossbar and flew wide. A Christodoulopoulos free-kick three minutes later was just inches over the bar.
Souleymane Bamba headed the ball one meter wide off Glykos’s left post after a corner kick from the right, but this was the warning that Greece should have heeded. Substitute Wilfried Bony slotted the ball home in the 74th after a Gervinho assist inside the box for 1-1. It was a goal that came pretty much against the run of play.
Santos sent on Fanis Gekas for Karagounis for the last quarter of the hour, and Greece’s last contact with the woodwork came in the 80th minute from an unexpected shot by Vassilis Torosidis from the right that came off the left post of Barry.
And then Samaras earned a penalty in the first minute of injury time, which ninetimes outof 10 would not have been given. The Celtic striker picked the ball up, that weighed as heavy as all the expectations of 11 million Greeks, and became the match-winner beating the keeper who dived to meet the ball but to no avail.
Greece’s game against Costa Rica is on Sunday at Recife at 11 p.m. Greek time.