Greece sank to a new low on Tuesday as Angelos Anastasiadis’ hapless team slipped to an embarrassing 2-3 home defeat to minnows Armenia in their latest Euro 2020 qualifying setback at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.
First-half goals from Aleksandre Karapetyan and Gevorg Ghazaryan put Armen Gyulbudaghyants’ men in firm control of this Group J clash, and although Zeca pulled a goal back for Greece, Tigran Barseghyan struck a third after 74 minutes to restore the two-goal lead.
There was still time for Kostas Fortounis to pull another goal back with just three minutes left, but the home side could not find a dramatic late equaliser to salvage a point, meaning Armenia sealed a famous win, while Greece lost for the second time in four days having also lost 0-3 to Italy on Saturday.
It was a first ever win over Greece for the Armenians, who moved up to third in the standings while the Greeks dropped to third-from-bottom with just four points collected from four matches.
In the other Group J matches, Italy ran out 2-1 winners against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Turin to maintain control at the top while Finland defeated Liechtenstein 0-2 on the road.
Greece’s next match is away to second-placed Finland on September 5, but it is hard to see under-fire coach Anastasiadis being in charge for that match with the Greeks desperately needing a spark from somewhere to revive their campaign.
Greece came into this match in desperate need of a pick-me-up after Saturday’s woeful display in the 3-0 loss to Italy on the same ground, and Anastasiadis made five changes to that side.
Anastasiadis opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation, notably replacing AEK goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas with Benfica star Odisseas Vlachodimos between the sticks. Efthymis Koulouris, the Super League top scorer, was given the chance to prove his worth at international level.
Despite the chances, the Greeks once again looked lethargic and sluggish going forward, lacking in creativity and were also understandably tense given the criticism that has come their way after the Italy debacle.
There was an early chance in the seventh minute for Fortounis, who jinked his way into some space for a shot, but his effort was parried to safety brilliantly by Armenia keeper Aram Airapetyan.
Things then took a turn for the worse just one minute later when Armenia took a shock lead from a quick counter attack. A delicious slide-rule pass by Barseghyan caught the home defence cold, and Karapetyan ran on to it before skipping round Vlachodimos and rolling the ball into the empty net from a tight angle.
That was the first goal Armenia had ever scored against Greece and there was another one after 33 minutes to make it 2-0.
On another fast break, Ghazaryan was played in down the left-hand side. He cut inside and sent the sliding Sokratis Papastathopoulos the wrong way, before unleashing a powerful, right-footed curler beyond Vlachodimos and into the far corner.
At that point a real Greek tragedy was looking on the cards for the hosts, and the home supporters made their feelings clear as they booed the home team off at half-time.
Thankfully Greece showed a better face in the second half, finally bringing a bit of urgency and energy to their play which resulted in Zeca pulling a goal back after 54 minutes, with the midfielder converting Fortounis’ assist.
The chance came after Koulouris’ shot was blocked by Armenia defender Varazdat Haroyan, and the ball looped up to Fortounis. The Olympiacos midfielder did brilliantly before laying the ball back to the edge of the penalty area for Zeca, who struck a low shot under the body of Airapetyan.
That goal gave the home players and fans real hope, and Greece began to apply considerable pressure to the visitors’ defence as they searched for an equaliser.
But, just as it seemed there may be a chance for Greece, their hopes were crushed 16 minutes from time when Barseghyan scored for Armenia to make it 3-1. Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the architect, playing Barseghyan through and after his first effort thumped the post, he tucked the rebound home.
Fortounis gave a glimmer of hope for an unlikely comeback when he pulled a goal back in the 87th minute, but the Armenians held firm to register what is a memorable victory for them and complete a miserable night for the home side in front of their fans in Athens.
Greece: Vlachodimos (GK), Koutris, Mavrias, Papastathopoulos (C), Siovas, Samaris, Zeca, Pelkas, Masouras, Fortounis, Koulouris
Armenia: Airapetyan (GK), Haroyan, A. Grigoryan, Mkrtchyan, Ghazaryan, Barseghyan, K. Hovhannisyan, Mkhitaryan (C), Hambartsumyan, Karapetyan, Ishkhanyan
GROUP J STANDINGS
Italy 12 pts (13:1)
Finland 9 pts (6:2)
Armenia 6 pts (7:6)
Greece 4 pts (6:8)
Bosnia 4 pts (5:7)
Liechtenstein 0 pts (0:13)