Greece seals place in World Cup playoffs

Greece sealed a place in the World Cup playoffs on Sunday thanks to a comfortable 4-0 home win over minnows Gibraltar at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium in Athens.

A brace from striker Kostas Mitroglou and further strikes from captain Vasilis Torosidis and substitute Kostas Gianniotas gave Michael Skibbe’s side the win they needed to end their Group H qualifying campaign in second place behind Belgium and into the playoffs as one of the best runners-up.

Greece, who lost just one match at home to Belgium during qualifying, finished with a record of 19 points from 10 games, two points ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who finished third with 17 points.

Unseeded Greece’s next opponents to overcome to reach Russia 2018 will be revealed in the playoff draw which will be held on October 17, while the play-off matches will be held over two nights in November, between 9-11 and 12-14.

On the night, Greece began brightly and should have been ahead before the goal game fairly late in a first-half which the hosts dominated.

Torosidis headed over from a corner after 10 minutes while four minutes later it was Kostas Stafylidis’ turn to direct a header over the crossbar following a Fortounis right-wing cross.

Gibraltar were forced to try and sit back and soak up the pressure while looking to hit on the break, and they did have a sight of goal in the 18th minute when the ball broke to No. 9 Jeremy Lopez, but he fired a weak shot well wide of Karnezis’ right post.

Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, back in the national team after a long absence, fired a long range free-kick straight down the throat of Gibraltar keeper Deren Ibrahim, before Greece finaly got the breakthrough that was coming in the 32dn minute.

Naturalized Greek citizen Zeca was given time and space on the right flank to pick out the run of Torosidis, who had stayed forward for an attack. The captain rose unmarked to score with a powerful flying header.

It should have been 2-0 five minutes later but Mitroglou passed up a great chance when he headed straight at Ibrahim.

With the job more or less done, Greece eased off the gas in the second half. Skibbe’s players still dominated possession but threatened mainly from corners through Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Then Greece went 3-0 up with two goals in the space of two minutes just after the hour mark from Mitroglou as a result of some crisp passing play.

The Marseille striker got his name of the scoresheet first by slotting home from Mantalos’ assist after a threaded pass from Fortounis started the move, and he prodded in from close range moments later after a neat exchange of passing involving Fortounis and Torosodis.

Substitute Kostas Gianniotas completed the scoring with a diving header after a superb run and cross from left-back Stafylidis.
By Graham Wood

Image Source: onsports.gr

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