Austria defeat Greece with late sucker punch
UEFA EURO U-21 QUALIFYING - PLAYOFFS (LEG 1)
|Greece U21||0 - 1||Austria U21|
Greece Under-21’s side hopes of reaching the 2019 European Championship were dealt of blow on Friday as they were beaten 1-0 by Austria in the first leg of their playoff tie at the Toumba stadium in Thessaloniki.
Stefan Posch slide home from close range with just seven minutes left against the run of play to break Greek hearts in what was a closely contested encounter which saw both teams play defensively.
Austria, who have never played at a major Under-21 finals before, now have the upper hand - albeit a slender one - ahead of the return leg in St Polten on November 20. The draw for the finals, which will be played in Italy and San Marino from June 30-16, will be held on November 23.
Greece, who last played in a major finals back in 2002 when the team reached the quarter-finals, came into the match with a superb qualifying record having one eight of their 10 matches, drawing once and losing once, eager to build up a solid advantage.
But chances were at an absolute premium in an evenly-matched first half during which both sides sought to give little away and played extremely cautiously. Apart from a few pot shots from distance, there was little to suggest that either side would manage a goal unless they loosened the shackles a little.
So much was the lack of goulmouth action that it took 35 minutes for the first real dangerous moment to register. And it came in favor of the visitors when left-back Maximilian Ullman’s cross was intercepted by Greece defender Pantelis Hatzidiakos. The big centre-back’s attempted clearance, however, was straight at Christoph Baumgartner and the ball ricocheted off the Austria forward and onto the post.
Greece responded well to that close call, however, going down the other end and threatening to score themselves five minutes before half-time. A neat, flowing move ended with Kostas Galanopoulos’ shot which was saved well by Alexander Schlager in the Austria goal.
The slow tempo and cautious approach displayed by both sides continued into the second half up until the hour mark, when finally it seemed the two coaches were prepared to give the green light to commit more players forward.
After a sustained period of pressure on 63 minutes, Greece threatened through midfielder Thanasis Androutsos, who turned cleverly before unleashing a powerful shot from the edge of the penalty area which the well-positioned Schlager was able to save.
The hosts continued to probe in search of a breakthrough as they enjoyed more of the possession, and PAOK forward Dimitris Limnios was denied by Schalger at point blank range just four minutes later after he fired a shot on goal from a tight angle after good work from substitute Konstantinos Kotsopoulos.
Kostopoulos was then guilty of missing perhaps Greece’s best chance of the match after 73 minutes when he headed over the bar when unmarked and with only the keeper to beat.
Then much to the dismay of Greece coach Antonis Nikopolidis, Austria scored with their only real chance of the second half with just seven minutes left. Big centre back Posch slide the ball home from close range after Arnel Jakupovic headed on a corner.
The goal left Greece shell-shocked and their struggled to regain their composure to try and salvage something from the game, with Austria holding on for a precious win.
Greece: 1 Kotsaris(GK), 2 Saliakas(C), 3 Tsimikas, 5 Nikolaou, 6 Karachalios, 7 Bouzoukis, 8 Galanopoulos, 11 Chatzigiovanis, 14, Androutsos, 15 Chatzidiakos, 18 Limnios
Austria: 23 Schlager(GK), 4 Posch, 5 Lienhart(C), 7 Grbic, 8 Danso, 10 Lovric, 15 Ullmann, 18, Ljubic, 19 Wolf, 20 Baumgartner, 21 Ingolitsch