SPORTS

New win lifts World Cup bid

European champions Greece came from behind to defeat Georgia 3-1 on Saturday to make it three successive World Cup qualifying wins in Group Two. Malkhaz Asatiani fired the home side ahead 1-0 midway through the first half, but the Greeks scored two goals in two minutes just before the break to turn the match around. After a slow start to their qualifying campaign, Greece have moved to within three points of leaders Ukraine, who did not have a game on Saturday. Greece, who host Albania on Wednesday, now have 11 points after six matches. Denmark and Turkey share third spot with nine points each. Albania lies fifth, three points behind, Georgia is sixth on five points, and Kazakhstan last without a point. The latter two have played a game less. Georgia was in control of the game for most of the first half, and Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Asatiani put the home side in the lead in the 22nd minute, scoring from close range when goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis failed to control the ball after Levan Kobiashvili’s shot from 22 meters. Michalis Kapsis leveled the score in the 43rd minute when his powerful curling shot from the edge of the box hit the upper corner of the net. Two minutes later, Zissis Vryzas shocked the 22,000 sellout crowd at Lokomotiv stadium, heading home Stelios Giannakopoulos’s headed cross, which goalkeeper Giorgi Lomaia could only follow with his eyes. Greece was dominant after the interval and Giannakopoulos was quick to capitalize on Lomaia’s mistake in the 53rd minute and scored from close range for a 3-1 lead and a well-deserved victory. «Georgia played really well for the first 25 minutes, but the two quick goals made the difference for us,» said Greece coach Otto Rehhagel. «And of course, we played much better in the second half.» With Saturday’s victory, his 24th from a total of 43 matches – official and friendly – at Greece’s helm, Rehhagel became the coach with the greatest number of wins for the national team. The German surpassed Alkettas Panagoulias, who notched up 23 wins from 74 matches. The Tbilisi match was marred by home fans throwing plastic bottles on the pitch late in the second half. One hit a Greek player but he escaped unhurt. Also Saturday, in another Group Two game, Turkey beat Albania 2-0 in Istanbul after striking twice early on. In the third minute, Emre Belozoglu was fouled in the penalty area and Necati Ates converted the ensuing spot kick past Albania goalkeeper Ilion Lika. In the fifth minute, Elvin Beqiri scored an own-goal. In the group’s other game, Denmark charged to a 3-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Kazakhstan on Saturday. Striker Peter Moller scored twice in his first international appearance for two years. The 33-year-old Moller, a late call-up to the squad, opened the scoring after 10 minutes by powerfully heading Martin Jorgensen’s free kick past Kazakhstan keeper Yuri Noviko. Noviko was beaten again 20 minutes later when Jorgensen crossed for Christian Poulsen to head in. Moller put the game beyond Kazakhstan when he netted his second goal three minutes into the second half. «It was a little easier than expected,» Denmark coach Morten Olsen told a news conference after the match. Banned from the touchline on Saturday after being ordered from the dugout when Denmark lost 2-1 in Greece last month, Olsen said his team still had the power to make it to the finals next year, though Wednesday’s game against Ukraine in Kiev will be a tougher test. (Reuters, AP, Kathimerini)