U19s reach European final

The Under-19 national soccer team has exceeded all expectations and precedents by advancing to the final of the European Under-19 Championship, beating Germany 3-2 yesterday in the semifinal in Austria. Despite fighting with 10 players for half an hour, Greece showed amazing courage, strength and concentration to down the match’s, and the tournament’s, favorite. On Friday, when Greece will meet either France or Spain for the trophy, coach Nikos Nioplias’s boys will follow the example set by Theo Zagorakis and Co in Portugal, where the men’s squad won Euro 2004. The Germans began the semifinal as the better side and missed a couple of good chances before taking the lead in the 25th minute with Anis Ben-Hatira’s strike. Greece then started to pick up its game and threatened with Yiannis Papadopoulos and Vassilis Pliatsikas, but it was only at the 41st minute that Greece drew level, thanks to clever slot-in by Sotiris Ninis after two shots by Papadopoulos were blocked. The second half started with much more pressure from Greece, which increasingly exploited the gaps in the German defense and the unconvincing goalkeeping of Martin Mannel. Ninis had a long-range arching shot just over the crossbar in the 54th minute, but Greece took the lead for the first time four minutes on: Ninis passed the ball inside the box to Costas Mitroglou, who sent a bouncing shot over the head of the puzzled German goalkeeper. It then seemed as if the balance would tip back in Germany’s favor as Pliatsikas justifiably got his marching orders for a second bookable offense in the 62nd minute, and four minutes later Germany was awarded a harsh penalty for Socratis Papastathopoulos’s challenging of Jerome Boateng. Ben-Hatira made it 2-2 from the spot to make way for a hot last 25 minutes. Greece responded well and had a chance at the goal, which eventually came two minutes from time as Andreas Lambropoulos headed the ball before Mannel could reach it after a Ninis corner. «We shall give it our all to lift the trophy in the final,» promised Nioplias. He added that initially Germany surprised him with the 4-4-2 formation it followed for the first time in the tournament.

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