Previous playoff heroics prove why Greece can beat Croatia
The moment of truth awaits. On Thursday, the Greek national team begin their playoff quest to make the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. A talented Croatian side make up the opponents, but Greece can take heart from previous appearances at this stage.
It promises to be a huge challenge, but the Greeks are no stranger to that. In 2009 and 2013, the team produced sterling playoff performances to qualify for two successive World Cups. AGONAsport takes you through those historic matches, signifying why Greece have a chance to make Russia 2018.
14-NOV-2009. Greece - Ukraine 0:0
Following the failed attempt to make the 2006 World Cup as European champions, Greece were happy to make the playoff stage. The Greeks were drawn to face a decent Ukraine team, but the Ethniki had no fear. After all, Greece had finished just one point behind Switzerland in the qualifying group, almost making the World Cup without the playoffs.
Greece had the better of proceedings at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, creating the best chances in a rather dull encounter. Theofanis Gekas thought that he had given Greece a first half lead, but his close range effort was ruled out for offside. The Greeks managed to keep Ukraine at bay, barely allowing the visitors any opportunities to score. Sotiris Kyrgiakos should have won the first leg for Greece in the dying moments, but he contrived to head wide with the goal at his mercy. Still, a 0:0 result in the first leg is never a bad result.
18-NOV-2009. Ukraine - Greece 0:1
Four days later, the countries did battle in Donetsk. Having not conceded an away goal in Athens, the visitors knew that a traditional Greek performance would get the job done - score on the counterattack, defend heroically and frustrate the opponents. To the nation’s delight, that’s exactly what happened.
The first goal was always going to be crucial, and it was the diminutive Dimitris Salpingidis who scored it. Peeling away from the Ukrainian defence, he calmly slotted the ball beyond the sprawling goalkeeper. In complete control of the tie, Greece could batten down the hatches and wait for Ukraine to pile the pressure on. The Ethniki’s defence expertly dealt with the likes of Andriy Shevchenko, seeing the game out to dramatically clinch a 2010 World Cup berth, their first since 1994!
15-NOV-2013. Greece - Romania 3:1
Greece impressed in the qualifying group, only losing out to first placed Bosnia on goal difference. The Ethniki were pitted against Romania in the playoff round, a fixture which saw the Karaiskakis Stadium come together to create a simmering atmosphere.
Kostas Mitroglou opened the scoring in Piraeus, volleying home inside the box. Bogdan Stancu replied for Romania with a header from a deep free kick, but Greece weren’t to be denied.
Dimitris Salpingidis reinstated the Greek lead on 20 minutes, bundling a pinpoint cross over the line. Greece continued to dominate proceedings, pressure which was rewarded with a third goal in the second half. Kostas Mitroglou’s half-volley was deflected past the goalkeeper by a Romanian defender, gifting Greece a key 3:1 lead before the return in Romania.
19-NOV-2013. Romania - Greece 1:1
In need of goals, Romania predictably took the initiative in Bucharest. Orestis Karnezis was the busier goalkeeper during the opening stages, but the Romanians failed to force the Greek stopper into any real testing saves.
Kostas Mitroglou, who netted two crucial goals in the first leg, was to break Romanian hearts once again. Latching on to Giorgos Karagounis’ fine lobbed pass, the imposing striker confidently beat Romania’s goalkeeper with a classy finish.
Unfortunately, there was to be a sting in the tail. Romania got on terms in comical circumstances as Jose Holebas thumped his clearance against Vassilis Torosidis, a misunderstanding which you rarely see at the top level. The Romanians threw everything at Greece in the closing stages, but the Ethniki held on to qualify for their second consecutive World Cup!