Greece get the job done in Zenica
FIFA WORLD CUP QUALIFYING - GROUP H (MATCHDAY 6)
|Bosnia-Herzegovina||0 - 0||Greece|
Greece secured a vital point in their World Cup qualifying campaign after holding Bosnia Herzegovina to a goalless draw in a tense Group H encounter in Zenica on Friday.
It was a slow burner of a match at a hostile Stadion Bilino polje, with neither side able to claim supremacy on the night and only really threatening to score in the final frantic minutes of a closely-contested contest.
Greece’s Petros Mantalos missed the game’s best chance, side-footing wastefully over the crossbar with only Bosnia goalkeeper Asmir Bergovic to beat in the 82nd minute, while Bosnia’s Edin Dzeko and Ermin Bicakcic were denied by some smart goalkeeping from visiting keeper Orestis Karnezis.
The result means Greece hang on to second place with 12 points, while Bosnia are right behind them in third place with 11 points. Leaders Belgium extended their lead over Greece to four points after a 2-0 win over Estonia on Friday saw them move onto 16 points.
Greece will play three of their four remaining fixtures at home, the first of which is against Estonia on August 31.
Mehmed Baždarević’s talented Bosnian team had won all three of their Group H home games coming into this match, while Greece arrived on the back of two 1-1 draws – against Bosnia and Belgium respectively.
If Michael Skibbe’s players needed any added motivation to try and win the match, they had to look no further than the pre-match routine of lining up for the national anthems. The Greek anthem was barely audible amid intense jeering from the home crowd.
The first half was a tentative affair, however, with Greece looking good in defence but not being able to do much with possession when they tried to go forward, with the midfield of Alexandros Tziolis, Tasos Bakasetas, Petros Mantalos and Zeca struggling to support Kostas Fortounis and lone striker Kostas Mitroglou.
It came as no surprise when the Bosnians got the first sight of goal after 12 minutes, but thankfully for the Greeks, goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis was quick off his line to block Edin Viska’s prodded effort after the home striker was played in by Vedad Ibisevic.
Bosnia knocked on Karnezis’ door again in the 25th minute, but again the Greek custodian was equal to substitute Kenan Kodro’s close-range volley.
Greece broke forward two minutes later with their first threatening attack to win a free-kick, but Zeca’s shot after Bakasetas’ set-piece rebounded off the wall flew harmlessly over the crossbar.
Juventus star Miralem Pjanic was next to try his luck for the hosts with a long-range free-kick, but his curling effort just lacked the necessary dip to trouble Karnezis, whizzing over the bar.
The half-time break did little to change the pattern of play, with Greece doing their best to keep the scoreline at 0-0 in the hope of catching Bosnia on the counter-attack as the hosts enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but without getting in positions to hurt Greece.
Bakasetas limped off and was replaced by Tasos Donis just four minutes into the second period, but the match tightened up further with niggly fouls from both sides constantly breaking up play.
Greece did get a sight of goal in the 75th minute, but Mantalos just failed to connect with Mitroglou’s cross when a goal looked certain.
The AEK man was then guilty of missing the game’s best chance with just eight minutes left, firing wasteful over the bar after being set-up by Donis following a superb counter-attack by the Greeks.
Bosnia were then denied a goal twice in the space of a minute when Greek keeper Karnezis first tipped Dzeko’s low shot around the post, before producing a superb flying save to keep out Bicakcic’s header as the match opened up in the closing stages.