Northern Ireland taught Greece a harsh lesson on Tuesday at the Karaiskakis Stadium with a 2-0 win that has kept the Blue-and-Whites pegged on one point from three games, or with seven games to go till the end of the Euro 2016 qualifying stage.
Greece, the team that used to be so hard to beat has now become the toast of Romania, Northern Ireland, and who knows what will happen in November against the Faroe Islands. The lack of creative midfielders who would feed the ball to the forwards was blatantly obvious, but Costas Fortounis and Petros Mantalos remained on the Greek bench for the whole of the game.
Instead manager Claudio Ranieri fielded two center forwards in Costas Mitroglou and Stefanos Athanasiadis, and two wingers in Giorgos Samaras and Nikos Karelis, but there was no link between the holding midfielders and the frontline of the team.
As if that had not been enough, the visitors scored with the game just eight minutes old through a deflected shot by Jamie Ward, following pressure applied on the Greek defense from kickoff.
The 20,000 Greek fans at the stadium could hardly believe how Greece got frustrated beyond recognition, while Northern Ireland was at times a joy to behold with its flowing and efficient game in the first hour, before it sat inside and just outside its penalty box to defend.
Karelis missed Greece’s best chance in the first half, until Kyle Lafferty, playing like a world-class striker, toyed with Roma’s Costas Manolas and was only stopped by the cross bar on the 45th minute.
The Norwich forward was not to be denied again five minutes into the second half as he outfoxed defender Costas Stafylidis to slot the ball past keeper Orestis Karnezis for 2-0.
Clueless as to how to deal with the visitors’ defense, the Greeks started making one cross after another, seemingly unable to find spaces for long-range shots or for intrusions into the box in the rest of the game. They will need to change ever so much if they are to stand a chance to qualify to the finals in France.