Another experimental and youthful Greece side put in a much-improved display against Bosnia-Herzegovina to earn a deserved 2-1 win in their Euro 2020 qualifying clash at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.
Willem II striker Vangelis Pavlidis, who came in at the expense of Efthymis Koulouris, put Greece in front with a clinical finish following a slick passing move on the half-hour, but the lead lasted just five minutes before Amer Gojak levelled matters with a tap-in.
Greece hit the woodwork twice in a second-half they dominated, and justice was finally done when Adnan Kovacevic prodded home an own goal following a Giannis Fetfatzidis cross two minutes from time to secure a deserved win for Greece for the first time in six matches – the last one coming against Liechtenstein back in March.
It was a hugely impressive display from this new-look Greek side against a ragged-looking Bosnia, and there were plenty of other chances to score more goals – an encouraging difference versus previous outings with more experienced players.
The result leaves Greece still second from bottom of Group J but now with eight points from eight games, while Bosnia drop to fourth behind Armenia and five points behind second-placed Italy. With Finland defeating Armenia earlier today, Greece are mathematical out of contention to qualify for next summer’s finals.
Up next for Greece is a trip to Armenia on November 15, while Bosnia and Herzegovina face a tough trip to face Italy.
With seven games played heading into this match, Greece occupied fifth position in the section while Bosnia were only two points behind second-placed Finland.
For Greece, this match was all about restoring some badly-needed pride after another defeat in their last match against Italy, albeit with an improved performance.
There was a big surprise in the starting line-up with Pavlidis selected as the one striker in place of Koulouris, who had started against Italy. PAOK goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis kept his place in the side, while Konstantinos Stafylidis moved into the centre of defence, partnered by Pantelis Hatzidiakos, with Dimitris Giannoulis and Michalis Bakakis on the flanks.
Dimitris Kourbelis and young AEK star Konstantinos Galanopoulos were selected in central midfield, while Petros Mantalos, Tasos Bakasetas – playing in the No.10 role – and Dimitris Limnios providing the attacking threat from midfield behind Pavlidis.
After a low-key start to the match with both sides tentatively feeling each other out, Paschalakis was called into action after 13 minutes.
First Zoran Kvržić’s low cross from the right landed at Gojak’s feet on the edge of the box, but his lob was cleared off the line by Chatzidiakos. The ball then fell to Armin Hodžić but his shot was saved well by Paschalakis.
Apart from that scare, Greece looked comfortable and deservedly took the lead on 30 minutes. And what a goal it was. Limnios, who has been a revelation for PAOK so far this season, cut in from the right flank and unloaded to Mantalos, who spotted the run of Pavlidis with a delicate one-touch pass.
Pavlidis then showed great skill to turn a Bosnian defender before beating Ibrahim Sehic with a clever side-footed finish into the left corner.
Marauding AEK right back Michalis Bakakis then missed a glorious chance to make it 2-0 after 34 minutes. After being played in by Tasos Bakasetas on the overlap with a trademark lung-bursting run, the defender’s finish with only Sehic to beat was not good enough with the keeper parrying the ball away.
One minute later, Greece were made to pay dearly for that miss when Gojak tapped home the equaliser from close range from Kolašinac’s low center from the left following a neat passage of play.
While it was a well-worked goal from the Bosnians, there was a serious lapse in concentration in Greece’s central defence with Gojak able to sneak in between the two central defenders.
Greece had another chance to take a 2-1 lead in the 41st minute but Mantalos saw his effort blocked. The AEK man worked himself some space inside the box, but he took slightly too long on his shot and it was deflected wide for a corner.
In the second half, the pattern of the game continued with Greece confidently passing the ball around and trying to work their way into dangerous positions while trying to keep a tight rein on the Bosnian attackers.
It was a game plan which seemed to be working and Mantalos passed up a chance to put the Greeks ahead in the 57th minute. After breaking through on goal on a fast break, Mantalos cut inside and fired in a low shot, but it was expertly parried to safety by the ever-alert Sehic.
Greece kept searching for a goal, however, and substitute Giorgos Masouras hit the post just moments after replacing Mantalos on the hour mark. The lively Olympiacos man was eager to impress, and shortly afterwards he was sent through on goal only to shoot tamely at Sehic when he should have made the Bosnia keeper work.
The confident-looking home side lay siege to the Bosnian final third for the last 20 minutes, with Stafylidis hitting the left post with a long-range effort and Masouras again testing the reflexes of Sehic with a snapshot.
Greece were finally rewarded for all their hard work and impressive attacking play in the 88th minute when substitute Fetfatzidis broke forward and surged into the box. After skipping past a defender, he sent over a cross that Kovacevic could only turn past Sehic with his outstretched leg under pressure from Koulouris.
Greece: Paschalakis (GK), Giannoulis, Stafylidis, Hatzidiakos, Bakakis, Kourbelis, Galanopoulos, Mantalos, Bakasetas, Limnios, Pavlidis\
Bosnia-Herzegovina: 12 Sehić (GK), 3 Bičakčić, 4 Kvržić, 5 Kolašinac, 10 Pjanić, 11 Hodžić, 13 Cimirot, 14 Gojak, 18 Kovačević, 20 Hajrović, 21 Sarić
GROUP J STANDINGS
Italy 24 points
Finland 15 points
Armenia 10 points
Bosnia 10 points
Greece 8 points
Liechtenstein 2 points
by Graham Wood
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