Greece dashed Armenia’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020 on Friday with an impressive 1-0 away win over their Group J rivals at the Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium in Yereva.
Dimitris Limnios continued his superb form for club and country by scoring the only goal of the game after 35 minutes to seal a second win in succession for John van ‘t Schip’s improving young team, who produced a classic, professional away performance.
It’s a result which helps a new-look, youthful Greece to keep their recent positive momentum going, while Armenia, who had to win the match to have any hope of staying in the running for qualification, struggled to create chances. Finland, however, easily defeated Liechtenstein in Tampere 3-0 to secure their ticket to their first major tournament in the country’s history.
Next up for Greece is a home match against Finland on Monday, while Armenia face Italy away on the same night.
The Greeks came into this match with no hopes of qualifying from the group - only a beyond the remote chance of qualifying via the Nations League playoff set up - since they could not mathematically overtake Finland or Italy. And so this game was more a chance to keep the positive momentum going following the 2-1 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina last month.
Greece’s public were hoping to see a repeat of the fluid, free-flowing football which was a feature of their last outing, while Armenia, on the other hand, occupied the third position with 10 points and went into the game still technically with a chance of finishing in second.
Van ‘t Schip only made one change to the team that beat Bosnia, with Benfica goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos replacing PAOK’s Alexandros Paschalakis between the sticks. Captain Konstantinos Stafylidis, who usually plays as a left-back, was once again played in the centre of defence alongside AZ Alkmaar star Pantelis Hatzidiakos.
Defensive midfield pair Konstantinos Galanopoulos and Dimitris Kourbelis were given the job of shielding the defence, while Petros Mantalos, Tasos Bakasetas, and Dimitris Limnios were once again the players trusted with creating danger in attack, and Willem II hitman Vangelis Pavlidis lead the line.
The visitors made a strong start and tried to press the Armenian defenders early on. Their lively start almost brought an early goal as Tasos Bakasetas fired in a shot which was parried by home goalkeeper Aram Airapetyan. From the rebound, the ball then fell to Petros Mantalos but the AEK captain hit Airapetyan’s left post from an acute angle
There was little to suggest that Armenia could pose the same attacking threat they did in the shock 3-2 win in Athens in the corresponding fixture, with little in the way of scoring chances created by the home side.
As the match wore on, the Greeks continued to grow in confidence and boss the game. And after long spells of pressure, they were rewarded with the opening goal in the 35th minute. It was a strike made in Thessaloniki as Dimitris Giannoulis set up his PAOK teammate Limnios who found space to fire in a low shot to make it 1-0.
That goal came as a huge blow to Armenia's hopes of qualifying, and they had it all to do in the second half.
Greece almost made it 2-0 after 56 minutes, but Pavlidis’ close-range effort was blocked by a defender after a good run and cross from the hard-working Limnios down the right.
Armenia did give Greece a scare in the 60th minute when Sarkisov’s rebounded effort found the back of the net, but the goal was rightfully called back for offsides.
The visitors continued to create all the dangerous opportunities and substitute Giorgos Masouras wasted a great chance to score with 15 minutes left. The Olympiacos forward surged down the left flank before cutting inside and into the penalty area. The Armenian defenders kept backing off and he was presented with a great chance to score, only to send his shot wastefully wide.
On 79 minutes Masouras then missed another glorious chance to make it 2-0 when he scooped over a cross from Limnios with the goal at his mercy.
Armenia continued to struggle to create chances, and their best effort of the second half was a shot from the edge of the box following a corner with five minutes left, but Artak Edigaryan’s effort was always rising and it flew harmlessly over the crossbar.
Greece held on easily to claim the three points and a second win in a row as they continued their promising rebuilding process under Dutch coach Van ‘t Schip.
Armenia: 16 Airapetyan (GK), 2 Calisir, 4 T. Voskanyan, 5 A. Grigoryan, 8 Barseghyan, 13 K. Hovhannisyan, 15 Ishkhanyan, 18 Vardanyan, 19 Hambartsumyan ©, 20 Karapetyan, 21 Hovsepyan
Greece: 1 Vlachodimos (GK), 2 Bakakis, 3 Stafylidis ©, 14 Bakasetas, 15 Galanopoulos, 16 Pavlidis, 17 Hatzidiakos, 18 Limnios, 20 Mantalos, 21 Kourbelis, 22 Giannoulis
GROUP J STANDINGS
Italy 24 points
Finland 18 points
Greece 11 points
Armenia 10 points
Bosnia 10 points
Liechtenstein 2 points
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