Greece came from two goals down to clinch a great 2-2 draw away to 10-man Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Stadion Bilino polje in Zenica on Tuesday as their second Euro 2020 qualifying match provided plenty of drama.
Goals from Edin Višća and Miralem Pjanic in a powerful first-half display looked to have set the impressive Bosnians on their way to a second three-point haul in succession in a match where Greece struggled for long spells.
But Angelos Anastasiadis’ new-look team fought back through Kostas Fortounis’ penalty and then substitute Dimitris Kolovos, who headed home with five minutes left to grab a point in a breathless finish.
Greece’s efforts were helped significantly when Bosnia had playmaker Pjanic sent off for a dangerous tackle on Greece midfielder Zeca with 25 minutes left, but the visitors still showed great composure and patience to reap their reward..
The result means Greece go second in Group J with four points after two matches, with Italy leading the way at the top. In other Group J action, Italy defeated Liechtenstein 6-0 while Finland were 0-2 victories away to Armenia.
Greece’s next qualifier is a home clash with the Italians on June 8, while Bosnia will face Finland away on the same day.
Following a solid 2-0 away win over Liechtenstein four days ago, Greece arrived in Zenica with the main aim of avoiding defeat against a strong Bosnian team, regardless of coach Anastasiadis’ pre-match talk of playing for a win in every game.
Because despite that hyperbole, Greece lined up with essentially four holding midfielders in Andreas Bouchalakis, Zeca, Dimitris Kourbelis and Andreas Samaras, in a narrow-looking formation designed to try and pack the midfield and prevent Bosnia from getting their slick passing game going.
However, it would be no overstatement to say that Greece struggled to cope with the home side in a blistering opening quarter of the match from the Bosnians, who with their boisterous fans roaring them on, dominated possession, pressed high up and pitch and seemingly threatened Odisseas Vlachodimos’ goal at will.
Bosnia were full of energy, clever flicks and slick passing and they deservedly took the lead in the 10th minute through Visca. After winning a corner on the left, Pjanić played it cleverley to the edge of the box. Visca was waiting and although his first effort was blocked, the ball fell kindly back into his path and the midfielder slotted it through a crowd of bodies and into the back of the net.
Five minutes later and it was 2-0 with Pjanić scoring a superb free-kick. After Dimitris Kourbelis had fouled the lively Bosnia No.9 Duljević 30 metres out, Pjanić stepped up and sent a swerving effort into the bottom corner which left Vlachodimos rooted to the spot..
Despite playing second fiddle for long spells, Greece did pass up a great chance to pull a goal back after 22 minutes. A raking ball out to the right released Bakakis in behind and he pulled the ball back for Fortounis. With virtually an open goal to aim at, Fortounis somehow scooped the ball over the crossbar.
Greece did finally saw more of the ball in the closing stages of the half, but there was little in the way of a goal threat with frontmen Fortounis and Tasos Donis struggling to make headway against a well-organised home side.
The pace of the second half was much slower than the frantic opening 45 minutes, and this suited Greece.
And as the visitors began to get hold of more possession, they grew more confident and were handed a route back into the game when Fortounis was fouled in the penalty area by Toni Sunjic. The Olympiacos forward stepped up and slotted home the spot-kick clinically to half the deficit.
Then astonishingly Greece got another break when Pjanic got himself sent off for a clumsy stamp on Zeca, the referee showing a straight red to the hosts’ midfield maestro.
That gave Greece the initiative to go in search of the equaliser and they set about their task well, with substitute Dimitris Kolovos unlucky not to score in the 76th minute when his shot was brilliantly saved by Ibrahim Sehic.
Kolovos did not miss when given a second chance, however, the AC Omonia man heading home powerfully from a great Zeca right-wing cross in the 85th minute.
BIH: 12 Šehić (GK), 3 Bičakčić, 5 Kolašinac, 7 Bešić, 8 Višća, 9 Duljević, 10 Pjanić, 11
Džeko (C), 13 Cimirot, 15 Šunjić, 17 Zukanovic
GRE: 1 Vlachodimos (GK), 2 Bakakis, 5 Siovas, 6 Bouchalakis, 8 Zeca, 10 Fortounis, 15 Donis, 19, Papastathopoulos (C), 21 Kourbelis, 22 Samaris, 23 Koutris
GROUP J STANDINGS
Italy 6 (8:0)
Greece 4 (4:2)
Bosnia 4 (4:3)
Finland 3 (2:2)
Armenia 0 (1:4)
Liechtenstein 0 (0:8)
*by Graham Wood
*Image Source: sportfm.gr