Greece ends Cyprus friendly tournament with two victories from as many games

Greece ended its commitments in an eight-nation friendly tournament in Cyprus last night with a second victory from as many games, the latest, 2-0, coming against international newcomer Kazakhstan. Promising young striker Giorgos Samaras, who made his senior-level debut for Greece at this tournament, scored yet again last night after finding the net in Greece’s 1-0 win over Belarus in his first game the previous night. If one thing stood out for the European champion team at this tournament, it was that a reliable scorer may have been found in Samaras. If so, the prospect comes right on time for the start of Greece’s Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, which begins later this year. One of the fundamental problems of Greece’s failure to qualify for this coming summer’s World Cup finals in Germany was its inability to find the net. The national team went several matches without scoring a single goal in its qualifying campaign. Even so, Greece narrowly missed out on second spot in its group for a berth in the playoffs. Samaras, who recently transferred to English Premiership club Manchester City from Dutch club Heerenveen in an 8.8-million-euro deal, opened the scoring against Kazakhstan in the 67th minute with a crafty close-range flick from a low cross that sneaked through a pack of Kazakhstan defenders and left the goalkeeper helpless. Samaras was one of several players brought on following the halftime break by coach Otto Rehhagel, who is looking to revitalize his squad for the Euro 2008 campaign. Stelios Yiannakopoulos, who also plays club-level soccer in the English Premiership, with Bolton Wanderers, added Greece’s second goal in injury time. Greece clearly dominated the encounter, but the team’s standard of play fell following Samaras’s opening goal. Countless more good scoring opportunities were available prior to the youngster’s opening goal, but none were fully taken advantage of. Ajax striker Angelos Charisteas, one of the heroes for Greece at its Euro 2004 triumph in Portugal who is currently struggling, failed to capitalize on four scoring opportunities in the first half. Samaras took his position in the second half. In another game played last night, the host nation defeated Armenia 2-0 with goals from Olympiakos striker Yiannis Okkas and Chrysis Michail. Cyprus withstood early pressure before Okkas opened the scoring in the 18th minute when he lobbed the ball from outside the area and over goalkeeper Roman Berezovski. The host then took control and missed several chances. Armenia’s Aram Voskanyan shot wide, but Michail sealed Cyprus’s win in the 61st when he volleyed the ball from the edge of the area after Armenia defenders failed to clear it. Meanwhile, Yiannakopoulos, responding to a question in an interview published yesterday by Fos, a local sports newspaper affiliated with Olympiakos, his former club, said he would like to return to the Piraeus club for his career’s finale. The 31-year-old’s contract at Bolton expires in two years. Yiannakopoulos has been a key performer this season at Bolton, currently vying for a Champions League berth. (Kathimerini, AP)