Greece gave their World Cup hopes a major boost on Saturday by fighting back from a goal down to defeat neighbours Cyprus 2-1 in Nicosia and move back into second place in qualifying Group H.
Two quick-fire goals from Kostas Mitroglou and Alaxandros Tziolis within two minutes mid-way through the first half turned the game on its head after Pieros Sotiriou had given Cyprus an 18th-minute lead at the GSP Stadium.
It was a vital win or Michael Skibbe’s Greece, who are now two points clear of Bosnia following their 4-3 defeat by group leaders Belgium in Sarajevo earlier in the evening.
Greece are now odds-on favorites to finish in second spot since they have the fairly simple task of beating group whipping boys Gibraltar in Athens in their final match on Tuesday, while Bosnia go to Estonia.
That is not the end of the story yet, however, as even if Greece do seal second place, that alone may not be enough to guarantee them one of the best runners-up places which earns a place at Russia 2018.
On the night in Nicosia, Greece got off to the worst possible start when Sotiriou beat the offside trap to go through on goal, and while Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis saved his first effort, he has no chance with the follow-up.
Fortunately for the travelling Greek fans there was an almost immediate response, with the scores level again just six minutes later.
Petros Mantalos intercepted a poor pass from Cyprus left-back Kostas Laifis, and the AEK captain squared perfectly for Mitroglou, who spun his marker Marios Antoniades with a superb turn before firing in from the edge of the box.
There was further joy for the visitors two minutes later when Tziolis rose highest to meet Kostas Fortounis’s curling corner and send a powerful header in at the far post.
Greece continued to dominate possession and create chances, and in the second half Skibbe’s team should have put themselves out of sight. However, a rapidly tiring Mitroglou passed up two great chances to score while Mantalos also cracked an effort off the post.
It mattered not though as Cyprus failed to rouse themselves and penetrate the Greek rearguard as the visitors claimed a crucial three points.
By Graham Wood
Image Source: SDNA.gr
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