Goals from Greece’s new generation, including Yiannis Fetfatzidis and Kyriakos Papadopoulos, helped the national team stay at the top of its Euro 2012 qualifying group with a 3-1 win over Malta in Piraeus on June 4.
Greece remains one point ahead of Croatia, which beat Georgia 2-1 at home on June 3, and is the favorite to snatch the top spot that secures direct qualification to the finals in Poland and Ukraine next year.
The early goal that Greece scored allowed the national team to avoid the nerves it might have had and to produce a spectacular first 35 minutes that produced two goals and plenty of chances as the hapless visitors tried to weather the Greek storm.
Yet after the 35th minute the Greek enthusiasm subsided, perhaps due to the two-goal lead, allowing the Maltese to threaten Greece keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos.
The team of coach Fernando Santos was lucky to avoid conceding an equalizer in the 60th minute and sealed all three points three minutes later, in what was a key point in the game.
Greece took the lead after at the eighth minute through a swift team move from the right with Giorgos Karagounis, Sotiris Ninis and a pinpoint cross by Vassilis Torosidis into the path of Fetfatzidis, who scored with ease from the penalty spot.
The second goal came in the 26th minute as a Giorgos Karagounis free kick found debutant Papadopoulos in the box, and he slotted it home to celebrate with tears in his eyes.
Each side had a goal correctly disallowed as offside in the first half, by Dimitris Salpigidis for Greece and Michael Mifsud for Malta.
It was Mifsud, though, who pulled one back for the Maltese nine minutes into the second half as the Greek defense was caught in possession.
Malta came close to scoring an equalizer at the stroke of the hour as Andre Schembri?s shot hit the woodwork.
Greece restored its two-goal advantage in the 63rd minute as a great cross from the right by Salpigidis was spilled by Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg into the path of Fetfatzidis, who made no mistake from close range.
Another positive aspect to Saturday?s match was the unexpectedly high turnout that saw some 20,000 fans filling the Karaiskakis Stadium with a vibrant atmosphere.
Greece has 14 points, Croatia and Israel 13, Georgia is on nine, Latvia has four while Malta is still without a point.
Consequently Greece?s next match, in Israel on September 2, is crucial for its future in the group.