Ten-man Greece battles but falls

The Greek national soccer team suffered a 2-0 loss at the hands of Switzerland in Basel on Saturday, which makes it an outsider as far as ending in the top spot of the World-Cup qualifying Group B is concerned. Greece went into the match knowing that a draw would be good enough to stay top of the group with three games left to play. But its defensive strategy did not prevent it from making it hard on the Swiss defense, mostly through striker Yiannis Amanatidis. Yet the shape of the game changed in the 41st minute, when Greece right-back Loukas Vintra was dismissed for a second bookable offense that even Ottmar Hitzfeld, manager of Switzerland, dubbed «harsh.» With one man less, the Greeks tried to keep Switzerland out of their box, and when Hitzfeld decided to replace a defender with a striker halfway through the second half, Greece found some open space on the left-hand side of the pitch and had a couple of good chances. In one, a lob by Nikos Spyropoulos was just tipped away by Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio before the ball hit the woodwork. Yet with just seven minutes left, a freekick from the right by Hakan Yakin was met by Stephane Grichting who headed the ball into Greece’s net. As the Greeks pushed forward for an equalizer, the Swiss scored again on the break four minutes later with Marco Padalino, to wrap up the three points for the hosts. «A draw would have been a much more just result,» said Greece captain Costas Katsouranis. «At any rate, we should not have conceded goals from set pieces,» he added. The result leaves Greece three points behind Switzerland and joint second in the group with Latvia. Switzerland has 16 points, while Greece and Latvia have 13. On Wednesday, the Greeks will face Moldova at Chisinau, while Latvia will host Switzerland. Midfielder Giorgos Karagounis, who missed the Switzerland game due to injury, has since joined the Greece squad and is likely to feature in the match against Moldova.