Goals by Nikos Spyropoulos and Fanis Gekas secured Greece an ideal opening to its World Cup qualifying campaign on Friday at Latvia, as Greece beat its Baltic host 2-1 at Riga.
Greece had to come from behind as it trailed after the first 45 minutes, but produced a solid display in the second half and deservedly emerged victorious from the ”Skonto Stadions.”
It was the introduction of Samaras at half-time that changed the shape of the game, providing Greece with flare and inspiration in attack. However, an injury to his elbow 20 minutes later had him substituted by Sotiris Ninis.
A penalty that Kyriakos Papadopoulos conceded five minutes from half-time allowed Aleksandrs Cauna to score from the spot in the 41st minute and give Latvia a 1-0 lead before the interval.
Greece’s best moment in the first half came in the 34th minute when Costas Fortounis found Yiannis Maniatis in the box but the Olympiakos midfielder’s shot stopped at the upright.
The national team stormed into the second half and struck the woodwork again in the 53rd minute when a Fortounis corner hit the upright.
Eventually it fell to Spyropoulos to score the equalizer just like in last year’s game between the two sides in Riga, with the Greek left-back thundering a 25-meter shot past the Latvia keeper after an Alexandros Tziolis pass in the 57th.
Unfazed by the departure of Samaras a minute earlier, Greece took the lead in the 69th minute after Costas Katsouranis capitalized on a Latvian error in midfield and fed Gekas in the box who pounced the ball in from near the penalty spot. This was Gekas’s seventh goal against Latvia in the last four years.
In the remainder of the game the Greek team absorbed the Latvian pressure while chasing the counter attack with Gekas, to secure three precious points at the start of the group.
The next match for Greece is on Tuesday against Lithuania at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus.