Costas Mitroglou scored from Greece’s only shot to earn the national team a precious 1-1 draw in Belgium for the World Cup qualifiers that has boosted the Greek chances for a top-two finish, behind the Belgians.
The defense-minded team Greece fielded had to contend with playing with a man’s disadvantage from the 64th minute, and finished the game with nine players. Even so it would have won the game had it not been for a late equalizer for the hosts at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.
Manager Michael Skibbe opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation that strengthened the midfield and particularly the flanks, with Giorgos Tzavellas and Costas Stafylidis on the left, that frustrated the hosts throughout he game.
The first half went by with little action, as Greece weathered the pressure of the Belgians, but was unable to create anything meaningful up front. That was about to change just after the interval.
Barely half a minute into the second half Costas Tachtsidis headed the ball onto Mitroglou’s path and he lobbed the ball just over diving Thibaut Courtois to open the score against the run of play. The 2,500 Greeks at the stands went delirious at the unexpected twist.
The second yellow card shown to Tachtsidis changed the balance on the pitch though not the picture of the game, as Belgium kept attacking with the Greeks sitting back to absorb the pressure.
Keeper Stefanos Kapino denied Belgium’s Dries Mertens on the 74th in a one-on-one situation, but could do nothing to avert Romelu Lukaku’s close-range shot on the 89th that made it 1-1.
Kapino got his own back in injury time parrying a Lukaku header, and when the ball went back goalward off Tzavellas, he prevented Belgium’s winner with his stretched-out foot.
Deep in injury time Greece was left with nine men as the tussle between Lukaku and Tzavellas brought about the Greek defender’s second yellow card.
The game in Brussels marked the debut of Zeca, the Portuguese-born defensive midfielder of Panathinaikos who only got his Greek passport on Wednesday.
Besides Tachtsidis and Tzavellas, the booking to Andreas Samaris means that all three of them will miss Greece’s crucial game at Bosnia in June.