SPORTS

Draw in Bosnia keeps Greece in contention

GEORGE GEORGAKOPOULOS

TAGS: Soccer

Greece secured a precious goalless draw at Bosnia on Friday for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, to remain second in its pool and keep the Bosnians behind. Greece’s defense and midfield held the hosts, while the heroics of goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis made the difference in the end.

The national team was predictably defense-minded for a second match in a row, after the 1-1 draw in Brussels with group leader Belgium in March. However it will need to score more in the four remaining games if it wants to qualify.

At Zenica Greece manager Michael Skibbe placed great emphasis on the midfield as he opted for two defensive midfielders (Alexandros Tziolis and Zeca) and three attacking ones behind lone striker Costas Mitroglou.

In attack Greece was quite poor, but its midfield held the Bosnians with a frustrating effect, often silencing the home crowd as the hosts had problems in transition from defense to attack.

Central defenders Costas Manolas and Sokratis Papastathopoulos had plenty of work and contained the prolific Bosnians, and when called to the task Karnezis stood firm. He stopped the hosts twice in the first half depriving them of a certain goal. He then repeated this feat with two great saves late in the second half, denying Edin Dzeko and Toni Sunjic.

The match marked the national team debut of Tasos Donis of Nice OGC who came on as a second-half substitute for injured Tasos Bakasetas.

Donis and Mitroglou combined for Greece’s biggest chance on the 82nd minute, but Donis’s cross from the left was not converted by an unmarked Petros Mantalos just inside the box: He sent the ball over the bar.

Notably the Bosnian booing at the Greek anthem before kick-off was so loud that made it inaudible.

Belgium is on 16 points, Greece has 12 and Bosnia is third with 11. The top team qualifies to the World Cup finals and the runner-up will negotiate a home-and-away play-off.

Online