Greece has qualified to its third ever World Cup finals after beating Romania 4-2 on aggregate at the qualifying playoffs, as it followed up its 3-1 home win last Friday with a 1-1 draw in Bucharest on Tuesday.
The players of coach Fernando Santos were always in control of the return leg, in front of 50,000 Romanians and 2,000 Greeks, and after absorbing the hosts’
pressure in the first 15 minutes they made sure the ticket to the finals in Brazil was in their hands with an away goal by Costas Mitroglou halfway through the first half. The own goal that Vassilis Torosidis scored early in the second half was not enough to put the Romanians back into the game and the Greeks celebrated wildly in the end for the result that will realize a dream trip and give joy to millions of suffering Greeks.
After letting Romania test the waters in the first few minutes of the game, with some hastily taken shots that were not a problem for the Greek defense, the visitors started coming out of their half and had their first chance in the 17th minute with Jose Holebas, whose shot was palmed away by Romania keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.
The warning was not heeded, though, and six minutes later captain Giorgos Karagounis produced a high ball to Mitroglou, who beat the offside trap and then the keeper in a one-on-one situation for 1-0.
Romania grew frustrated as the game went on and its fans showed their anxiety in various ways, one of them being a banger that had Sokratis Papastathopoulos fall on the ground at the end of the first half.
Ten minutes into the second half Torosodis unexpectedly pounced a powerful shot into the wrong net for a spectacular own goal that Greece keeper Orestis Karnezis was unable to avert. This was the only way he would be beaten on the night.
The equalizer gave some momentum to the hosts, but the apparent lack of talent in this Romanian team and the well-organized Greek defense meant that the home team’s efforts were all in vain, while the Blue-and-whites ensured they held on to a result that spread joy across Greece.
Unfortunately defender Dimitris Siovas was stretchered off 10 minutes from time and appears to have torn a muscle, which will rule him out of action for Olympiakos for the next 20 days.
This will be the fifth major tournament Greece has qualified to in the last 10 years, after playing at Euro 2004, Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.