SPORTS

Greece’s World Cup campaign ends despite win over Georgia

(AP, Reuters, Kathimerini)

European champion Greece failed to qualify for the World Cup play-offs despite beating Georgia 1-0 in its final qualifier in Athens last night. Dimitris Papadopoulos scored the only goal in the 17th minute with a powerful header off a superb deep curling cross from right back Yiourkas Seitaridis. But the win was not enough to give Greece a spot in the play-offs. Greece finished in fourth place in the group behind winner Ukraine. Turkey finished second in Group 2 with 23 points, one ahead of Denmark and two in front of Greece. Ukraine secured a place at the 2006 World Cup in Germany early last month, while Turkey goes to the play-offs. Throughout Greece's game, fans chanted the name of Otto Rehhagel, the German coach who led the national team to victory at the European Championship. Rehhagel sat on the bench possibly for the last time amid widespread speculation he will not renew his contract, which expires December 31. «Even if 10 years pass, part of my heart will be Greek,» Rehhagel said. «We have plenty of time for these decisions. .. [They] are not taken under pressure.» Central defender Traianos Dellas, nicknamed «The Tower,» played last night after being sidelined for seven months due to injury. «We never had a full team and we missed Dellas for most of the games,» Rehhagel said. «We were let down by our results at home and the opening loss against Albania.» With a new-look attack featuring Vangelis Mantzios and Dimitris Salpingidis, Greece got the first chance in the fourth minute but Salpingidis's header was deflected wide. Greece attacked throughout the game, and should have scored more. Georgia had a strong chance in the 28th when Kakha Kaladze found himself one-on-one with Greece goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis, but his shot was cleared away by the goalkeeper's legs. In Tirana, Tumer Metin scored in the 57th minute to give Turkey a 1-0 win at Albania and a spot in the play-offs. Metin beat Albania goalkeeper Ilion Lika with a 16-meter shot after a defensive error. Denmark, playing its final qualifier in Kazakhstan with Tirana's match progress in mind, beat the home side 2-1. Michael Gravgaard and Jon Dahl Tomasson scored second-half goals. Midfielder Alexander Kuchma scored a late consolation goal for Kazakhstan. Denmark had a chance to finish second and reach the European play-offs, but Turkey's win in Albania deprived the Danes of the play-off spot. Gravgaard, who also scored the winner against Greece on Saturday, scored the first goal in the 46th minute. Three minutes later, Tomasson added another. Substitute Daniyar Kenzhekhanov stunned the visitors when he staged a quick counterattack in the 57th minute, but he barely missed the Danish net. In the 77th, Kenzhekhanov again threatened while Kazakhstan increased the pressure on Denmark. The Czech Republic, keen to prove its class at the World Cup finals following last summer's unexpected Euro 2004 semifinal exit as a result of Greece's dramatic 1-0 win deep into extra time, downed Finland 3-0 last night in Helsinki to gain at least a play-off spot. Tomas Jun, Tomas Rosicky and Marek Heinz scored for the Czech Republic to finish second in Group 1 with 27 points, two ahead of Romania. The Netherlands won the group with 31. Jun scored in the sixth minute when he coolly side-footed into the net in a one-on-one with Finland goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen. The move was started by veteran Vladimir Smicer on the left when he drew Finland's central defenders out of position. Rosicky doubled the lead in the 51st when his 17-meter low shot was too well placed for Jaaskelainen, and Heinz finished the scoring six minutes later. Finland's Toni Kuivasto drew an outstanding save from Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech, and the central defender then hit the crossbar in the 54th with a header.

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