Greece back in the race for World Cup

Greece is back in the race to qualify for the 2006 World Cup after beating Denmark 2-1 on Wednesday, coach Otto Rehhagel said. «If we had lost today, we would almost certainly be out of the race but we won and we are back in the running and that’s all that matters,» the relieved German said. The victory, before a sellout crowd of 33,000 at the recently built Karaiskaki Stadium, lifted Greece into second place in Group 2 on eight points from five games, two points clear of Denmark, Turkey and Albania. Group leaders Ukraine have 14 points from six games. Angelos Basinas scored the winner as the European champions breathed new life into their qualifying hopes following a sluggish start to their campaign of one win, two draws and a defeat. «We had a very good first half and a very bad second half and we also lost our concentration after the Danish goal,» Rehhagel said. «But at the end of the day, all that matters is we got the three points and are back in the race.» Greece dominated the first half and then withstood a second-half surge from Denmark – the 1992 European champion. «We really wanted this win, and that’s what it’s all about,» Stelios Giannacopoulos said. «We still feel like champions, but there’s a lot of work ahead… we look forward to the games against Georgia and Albania and hope we can get good results then too.» Often criticized for defensive play at Euro 2004 in Portugal, Greece attacked from the start. Giorgos Karagounis hit Thomas Sorensen’s bar in the 13th before Greek skipper Theodoros Zagorakis, who played one half with a fever, gave the hosts the lead with a well-struck free kick. Zagorakis’s 25th minute goal was his first for Greece in 101 internationals. Seven minutes later, Italian referee Pierluigi Collina awarded a disputed penalty when he judged Thomas Gravesen to have fouled Giannacopoulos. Basinas converted to double the lead. Both teams then pressed forward, and the Danes capitalized in the final minute of the first half. Dennis Rommedahl exploited a fumble by keeper Antonis Nikopolidis, who came off his line to clear a cross, narrowing the gap to 2-1. The Danes dominated possession in the second half and frequently looked dangerous. In the 70th, a shot from Jon Dahl Tomasson was cleared off the line by Basinas. Six minutes later, Nikopolidis made up for his earlier mistake by blocking a header from Tomasson. It was only Greece’s third win in 16 games played between the two sides in various competitions since 1952. Denmark has won 10, with three draws. Rehhagel made special reference to Zagorakis for his efforts. «Zagorakis is an outstanding player. He drives this team and his fitness is exceptional so I am very happy for him today,» Rehhagel said. Denmark coach Morten Olsen blamed his players’ lack of concentration. «Of course we are very disappointed with the way we gave two goals away. As long as we give goals away like that and we don’t change our lack of concentration, then we will not win a football match,» he said. Olsen said his team’s chances of finishing top of the group had now all but disappeared but pledged to fight on. «It’s difficult to reach first place but we just have to battle on. In the second half, my players worked very hard and I think we controlled the game.» He was sent off five minutes from time for protesting a refereeing decision. In Group 2’s other game Wednesday, Ukraine’s Andriy Rusol and Andriy Husin struck in each half to clinch a 2-0 win against Albania in Tirana. (Reuters, AP)

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