N. Ireland win paves way to Euro finals

Greece celebrated on Saturday the national soccer team’s qualification for the Euro 2004 finals, to be played in Portugal next June. The qualification came after a tense 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland in Athens, which ensured that Greece came top of Group 6 with 18 points, a point ahead of favorite Spain. Ukraine finished with 10 points, Armenia followed with seven and Northern Ireland finished at the bottom, with three points and no goals scored. This was Greece’s second qualification in a European Championship finals since 1980 and the third in any major championship in the 74 years of the national team’s history. In the end it was victory that counted. The Greek players were too anxious to win and a penalty shot by Vassilis Tsartas in the 69th minute provided the goal that mattered. It was not an easy task to break down a packed defense but Northern Ireland was a clearly inferior team. However Greece, especially in the first half, played predictably, attacking from the right flank or through long passes by Tsiartas. Tsiartas missed Greece’s best chance in the first half when, in the 43rd minute, he unleashed a shot from over 30 meters away, which goalkeeper Maik Taylor barely tipped wide of the post. In the second half Greece attacked from both sides, but twice found itself exposed at the back. In the 66th minute, four Northern Irish players found themselves on the counterattack against two Greek defenders. However, defender Traianos Dellas blocked a shot. In the 80th minute, Dellas failed to get at the ball, but Andy Smith’s shot was wide.