Greece beats Northern Ireland, keeps qualifying hopes alive

Angelos Charisteas scored twice to give Greece a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland late on Wednesday which resurrected their hopes of snatching second place in the Euro 2004 competition’s Group 6. The Werder Bremen striker struck once in each half to take Greece to six points, following its win over Armenia in October. Spain, who beat Armenia 3-0 on Wednesday, tops the group with 10 points. Ukraine and Greece each have six, and Armenia, four points. Northern Ireland, which has not scored a goal in eight games, is last with one point. Sammy McIlroy’s side also suffered the embarrassment of having two players red-carded. James Quinn became the first Northern Ireland player to be sent off in a competitive international since Mal Donaghy in the 1982 World Cup when he went in the 39th minute for a challenge on Giorgos Karagounis. He was followed by Keith Gillespie 20 minutes from time, for a second booking. The Irish created a good opportunity in the first minute but Grant McCann’s header was saved by Antonis Nikopolidis. Charisteas opened the scoring after three minutes after being given a great through ball by Vassilis Tsartas. Ten minutes into the second half, he capitalized on a badly misplaced back pass from George McCartney to easily finish for his second. Seven minutes from time, Northern Ireland came within a whisker of ending their goal drought – now 792 minutes – when Mark Williams smashed a shot against the crossbar from close range but that could not cover up what had been a terrible night. McIlroy was annoyed with Polish referee Gregorz Gilewski. «The referee must look at his performance, I thought he was very poor,» said the manager. «It is very frustrating for me, we can’t afford to go down to 10 men, let alone nine. They were diving all over the place, they wound us up and unfortunately we bought the ticket.» Greece’s German coach, Otto Rehhagel, was angry at Northern Ireland for their rough play. Striker Demis Nikolaidis left the pitch limping in the 40th minute and a preliminary examination showed that he may be out for three weeks. A strike by air traffic controllers in Greece delayed the team’s return and, at one point, Greek soccer authorities seriously considered postponing this weekend’s first division soccer games. The team finally arrived yesterday afternoon. (Reuters, Kathimerini)