FIFA WORLD CUP QUALIFYING - GROUP H (MATCHDAY 5)
|Belgium||1 - 1||Greece|
|Lukaku 89'||Mitroglou 46'|
A late Romelu Lukaku goal denied a battling Greece team what would have been a spectacular victory over Belgium on Saturday as a thrilling World Cup qualifying Group H clash ended in a 1-1 draw in Brussels.
The Everton striker levelled in the final minute of normal time with a superb volley to cancel out Kostas Mitroglou’s opener, and he was also denied a winner by a magnificent reflex save from Stefano Kapino, one of many superb stops made by the Greece goalkeeper on the night at the King Baudouin Stadium.
Michael Skibbe’s Greece were under intense pressure for long spells in the match, particularly after the 65th-minute dismissal of Panagiotis Tachtsidis. The visitors ended the game with nine players after left-back Giorgos Tzavellas was also red-carded for a second booking in added time as tempers boiled over.
The result means Belgium hang on to top spot on the group with 13 points, with the Greeks two points behind with 11 after five matches. Bosnia-Herzegovina, who Greece play next, are third with 10 points.
Although without Chelsea star Eden Hazard, Belgium went into the match on the back of a record of eight consecutive wins while Greece were unbeaten in their last five matches.
The talented Belgians, managed by Spaniard Roberto Martinez, swarmed all over Greece in the opening 45 minutes, while Greece struggled to get out of their own half let alone get a foot on the ball.
Despite their dominance, the hosts were limited in terms of scoring chances, with Maroune Fallaini squandering the two best openings of the first half. His first chance came after 13 minutes when he flashed a header just wide of Stefanos Kapino’s left post when left unattended by the Greek rearguard, while his second was a cheeky flick which Kapino tipped over the crossbar brilliantly.
After a first half whereby it was all about survival for Greece, the visitors caught the home side cold just 30 seconds into the second half.
Tachtsidis won a header in midfielder to send Mitroglou clean through on goal after the Benfica striker gambled and sprinted away from a static home defence before clipping a clinical finish past Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Cortois.
Tachtisidis was then harshly red-carded after collecting a second booking for a clumsy late tackle on the Belgian right back Toby Alderweireld in the 65th minute, leaving his teammates to see out the final 25 minutes with a player less.
Greece faced wave after wave of attack from Belgium thereafter, but a well-marshalled backline lead by Kapino kept the hosts at bay time and again. Kapino produced a superb sprawling save from Dries Mertens in the 73rd minute after his initial free-kick was blocked.
Just when it looked like Greece would pinch a famous victory, however, Lukaku chested Mertens’ cross before swiveling exquisitely and powering a volley past Kapino on the turn while holding off the challenge of Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
The goal was a sucker punch to Greece, who had defended manfully in scenes reminiscent of the style of the team’s Euro 2004 performances, and they had Kapino to thank for blocking a Mertens’ goalbound shot and Lukaku’s header as the clock ticked down.
Greece would have taken this point before kick-off though so it is definitely a point gained rather than two lost, and it puts them in good shape ahead of the trip to face Bosnia-Herzegovina in their next match.