SPORTS

Greece on the verge of World Cup play-offs

GEORGE GEORGAKOPOULOS

Greece's scorers Alexandros Tziolis and Costas Mitroglou

TAGS: Soccer

Greece struggled to beat Cyprus 2-1 in Nicosia on Saturday, but the victory of Belgium in Sarajevo with a 4-3 score means the Greeks have leapfrogged the Bosnians into the second spot of their World Cup qualifying group.

The Greeks now have to beat Gibraltar in Piraeus on Tuesday and they will earn a place in the European zone’s play-offs.

The players of Michael Skibbe had to come from behind at the GSP Stadium to earn this precious victory, in an atmosphere that was anything but hostile.

The Cypriots shocked the Greeks at the start, as a great through-ball by Grigoris Kastanos split open the Greek defense and found Pieros Sotiriou who beat Orestis Karnezis with his second effort on the 18th minute.

Costas Mitroglou responded just six minutes later for Greece, managing to do once again what he does best on his return from injury. Petros Mantalos capitalized on an error by Constantinos Laifis and fed Mitroglou who equalized after a beautiful move around Panionios defender Marios Antoniades.

The turnaround was complete two minutes on as Alexandros Tziolis headed the ball home from a Costas Fortounis corner kick, making it 2-1.

Cyprus did not really threaten the Greek goal despite enjoying more possession, particularly in the second half when Greece had a number of counter-attacks that nearly produced a third goal, as Petros Mantalos was denied by the upright.

In the last half-hour the Greeks dropped to their defense, but the Cypriots could not enter the Greek box to create a chance.

It goes without saying that a win with Gibraltar is essential for Greece on Tuesday, and then – barring an unlikely combination of results in other groups that might leave Greece as the worst runner-up – it should hope for a favorable draw for the all-important play-offs that will take place in November.

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