SPORTS

Ninis goal gifts Greece win in Israel

Sotiris Ninis scored a wonderful goal to give Greece a crucial victory in Israel on September 2 for the Euro 2012 qualifiers, keeping it at the top of the table of its group.

Greece now has 17 points out of seven games, while a win on September 6 against Latvia in Riga will secure the national team a top-two finish, with another couple of games to go.

Israel has 13 points from eight games, and will probably be unable to catch up to Greece.

The Greeks’ golden goal at Tel Aviv came at the hour mark when Giorgos Karagounis and substitute Grigoris Makos earned the ball in midfield, allowing Ninis to roll forward with it.

The Panathinaikos midfielder ran some 20 meters with the ball, fending off a number of challenges by the hosts, before his well-placed strike beat Israeli keeper Dudu Aouate.

For most of the game Greece had control of its pace and had about 10 chances in total to score, after putting pressure on the Israeli goal from the start.

Given the heat and the humidity at this early afternoon kickoff, the idea of coach Fernando Santos was for Greece to impose its game from the start, score a goal and then sit back and defend when the players’ legs would be getting heavier.

Karagounis, Pantelis Kaffes and his first-half replacement Makos did a great job in the midfield and fed Giorgos Samaras and Dimitris Salpigidis a number of times. Had Samaras been more cautious, Greece would taken the lead far earlier.

Yet it was the weakest link in the Greek front line, Ninis, who got to score the precious goal for the Greeks, and the hosts had no answer to that.

Israel got no more than it deserved as it appeared bereft of ideas in attack and put comparatively little pressure on the Greek defense, as some of its best players, such as Yossi Benayoun and Tal Ben Haim underperformed on the day.

The final whistle found the 150 Greece fans at the stands singing the Greek national anthem, next to a massive Greek flag they had brought with them, while the home fans jeered at their team.

Costas Katsouranis and Vassilis Torosidis will miss Tuesday’s game in Latvia as they got another booking.