Greece breathed some life into their UEFA Nations League campaign on Thursday by defeating high-flying Group 2 rivals Finland 1-0 at the Olympic Stadium in coach Angelos Anastasiadis’ first game in charge. However, the result was not enough as Finland secured top spot in the group despite the loss.
An own goal from Albin Granlund gave Greece a much-needed and deserved victory against the Finns, who still earned promotion from the group despite conceding their first goal of the campaign and dropping their first points.
Greece now face Estonia in Athens in three days time where they will look for a victory to finish with 12 points in the group, which could still be enough to earn a place in the EURO 2020 qualifying playoffs in March 2020.
The Greeks came into the match in desperate need of a pick-me-up after a difficult period. Following the miserable 2-0 defeat by Finland in Tampere last time out, former coach Michael Skibbe was jettisoned.
The 65-year-old Anastasiadis was brought in to try and reinstate some pride among the seemingly unmotivated, disinterested Greek squad. And this result resembles a solid first step in that mission for the wily, veteran coach.
After a slow start to the match played in front of a half-empty Olympic Stadium, Greece looked to have much more urgency about their game and produced a series of promising attacks.
Their enterprising play was rewarded after 25 minutes, and even though there was a huge slice of fortune about the goal, the move which lead to the breakthrough was worth it.
Skipper Vasilis Torosidis, as he has done so many times down the years, produced the goods with a dangerous, whipped cross from the right. PAOK midfielder Dimitris Pelkas met the ball with a powerful header, but although his effort as saved, the ball rebounded off Granlund and into the goal.
Just three minutes after getting the breakthrough, Greece were dealt a blow when defender Kostas Manolas had to hobble off injured with a sore ankle after a bad landing, with Dimitris Siovas replacing him.
During the following minutes Greece were trying to get their bearings again and this allowed Finland back into the game, and the visitors were quick to carve out an opening on the half-hour mark.
It was a huge chance for the equaliser as Norwich striker Teemu Pukki getting in behind the Greece defence and squaring for Tuominen. Thankfully, Tuominen side-footed wide with the goal at his mercy.
Greece finished the half strongly with Sokratis Papastathopoulos heading against a post, and overall the hosts were certainly the better side in the opening 45 minutes, even if there was a stroke of fortune about their goal.
Tuominen was guilty of profligacy again five minutes into the second half as the visitors sought to level matters.
The Finns began strongly and after opening up the Greek defence, Tuomine was clean through on goal. But instead of finding the back of the net, the young forward sent his side-footed effort just past the post.
Chances were few and far between after that point, with a flurry of substitutions coming and Greece seemingly content to sit back and protect their slender lead. And they manage to do just that and pick up a win that not only keeps their promotion chances alive, but will also do the team’s confidence and morale the world of good.
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