An historic victory

The Greek national soccer team upset Spain 1-0 at Zaragoza late on Saturday, in what must rank as one of the greater achievements in its 70-odd-year history. It was Spain’s first home defeat in 12 years. Midfielder Stelios Yiannakopoulos scored Greece’s goal in the 43rd minute. He collected a pass from Stelios Venetidis and, with two Spanish defenders closing in, unleashed a powerful shot outside the penalty area that goalkeeper Iker Casillas could do nothing to stop. The match, a qualifier for the 2004 European Championship, has made Group 6, in which Spain seemed to be coasting to qualification, more competitive. After five of eight matches played, Spain is still on top, with 10 points, but Greece and Ukraine, also winners on Saturday, in a 4-3 home nail-biter against Armenia, follow just one point behind. Armenia has four points, while Northern Ireland has only gained a single point from four games. Only the group winner will qualify directly, while the second-place team will play two playoff games with a runner-up from another group. Greece plays Ukraine at home on Wednesday, in a match which, if it wins, will virtually assure it of at least second place. Its remaining matches, to be played in the fall, are against Armenia, away, and Northern Ireland, at home. «This is an historic victory,» exulted Greece’s German coach Otto Rehhagel, after the match. While most Greek pundits considered this match lost in advance, Rehhagel had insisted it could be won, if Greece played intelligently. It certainly did, a packed defense allowing the Spaniards a few chances and never once panicking. Goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis had to make good saves a couple of times in the second half. But otherwise the Spaniards produced no great scoring chances, even after Venetidis had been sent off in the 82nd minute with a second yellow card. On the contrary, Vassilis Lakis came close to scoring a second goal for Greece on the break. «Yiannakopoulos’s goal affected us,» said forward Fernando Morientes. Spanish coach Inaki Saez, who suffered his first defeat in 10 months at the helm, said, «We dominated the game but lacked clarity.» Yesterday, the Greek team went through a light training session in Athens. «We must now stop celebrating and think about the next match. We believe in ourselves,» Yiannakopoulos, a former Olympiakos player who recently signed with English club Bolton Wanderers, said yesterday.

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