Spain beats Greece 2-0 in Euro 2004 debut

Raul Gonzalez scored one goal and Juan Carlos Valeron added another as Spain easily beat Greece 2-0 Saturday in a Group Six qualifier match for the 2004 European soccer championship (Euro 2004). With its win, Spain moved to first place in the group with three points. Armenia and Ukraine, who drew 2-2 earlier on Saturday in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, follow with a point each. Northern Ireland, the fifth team in the group, has not yet played. Greece, which failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, has made only one appearance in the European finals, in 1980, and is fighting to return. The loss deprived each Greek player of a 8,800-euro ($8,700) bonus that the country’s sporting authorities had promised in case of a win. The game was played at the Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium, the home ground of Panathinaikos. The venue was used following the closure of Athens’s Olympic Stadium for repairs ahead of the 2004 Olympics. Spain’s new coach Inaki Saez was delighted after winning his first competitive match in charge. «Making your debut like this, away from home, with a win was great,» he said. The hosts gave Saez his biggest gift of the night in the eighth minute with a defensive howler. Greek center back Nikos Dabizas miskicked the ball straight to Juan Carlos Valeron, who slid it straight to Raul to fire home. «Effectively, it was an own goal; you don’t expect mistakes like that from experienced players but it happened,» said Greece’s coach Otto Rehhagel. «The goal lifted Spain after a tough start and it took us a long time to recover,» he added. Greece nearly leveled in the 11th with a close-range header from Demis Nikolaidis but goalie Iker Casillas denied him. But, thereafter, the hosts’ attacks were all checked by the Spaniards’ tight pressing in midfield. «I was expecting them to be more dangerous but we defended very well and they had to change system at the end of the first half,» said Saez. After the break, a double midfield substitution, bringing Panathinaikos pair Giorgos Karagounis and Angelos Basinas into the game, gave the home side the attacking momentum. Cheered on by a sell-out crowd of 17,000, Greece charged forward in the second period and nearly scored with a lob by Basinas in the 56th minute which hit the Spanish crossbar with Casillas out of position. Two minutes later a diving header from Nikolaidis went wide. Greek hopes for an equalizer faded in the 76th, when Valeron made the final 2-0 with a shot from the edge of the box. «We had to attack and risk more and against a team like Spain you can be caught out,» said Rehhagel. The two teams’ lineups were: Greece: Antonis Nikopolidis, Christos Patsatzoglou, Nikos Dabizas, Takis Fyssas (Zissis Vryzas, 70th), Traianos Dellas, Stelios Yiannakopoulos, Theodoros Zagorakis (Angelos Bassinas, 46th), Vassilis Tsartas, Costas Constantinidis (Giorgos Karagounis, 41st), Demis Nikolaidis, Angelos Charisteas. Spain: Iker Casillas, Raul Bravo, Calvo Garcia, Carlos Marchena, Michel Salgado, Ivan Helguera, Joaquin Sanchez (Gaizka Mendieta, 60th), Juan Carlos Valeron (Martin Cesar, 87th), Xavier Hernandez (Ruben Baraja, 60th) Raul Gonzalez, Vicente Rodriguez.(AP, Reuters)

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