Greece rides over Ivory Coast to second round at World Cup
Greece's Giorgos Samaras clears the ball over Ivory Coast's Sol Bamba during the group C World Cup match.
Ivory Coast was just a few seconds away from second qualification. They had came back from a goal down against an inspired Greek team. And a draw would have seen them through.
But a penalty call at the extra time proved the decider. Another Africa's representative has fallen by the wayside. Though the penalty call will remain ever controversial, the outcome was definite: an end of the road for the most promising African team.
Georgios Samaras neatly put the ball beyond the reach of the Ivorain goal keeper, almost in the nick of the final minutes of the added time.
Result: Greece is into the second round of the World Cup for the first time, winning 2-1 over Ivory Coast on Tuesday, eliminating the Africans in the process.
Ivory Coast would have advanced with a draw.
”This means so much to me, to us … Tonight we had energy,” Samaras said, dedicating the win to Greeks suffering through financial crisis. ”We really hope we can make the people happy back home. We are a team. A team – that's it.”
In Athens, where the game ended well after midnight, thousands of fans poured into the streets to celebrate. The players in Fortaleza danced around in a circle and sang with small groups of travelling fans at Arena Castelao who had been drowned out all night by the pro-African Brazilian crowd.
The Greeks had taken the lead just before halftime through substitute Andreas Samaris , who punished Ivorian Ismael Tiote for a careless pass backward.
Substitute Wilfried Bony equalized for Ivory Coast in the 74th, beating goalkeeper Pangiotis Glykos from close range after being set up by Gervinho .
That goal looked like it would put the Africans through until the late drama. Samaras met a cross in the area and tried to shoot with his left leg, which got caught against the leg of Sio. Samaras' foot then hit the ground and he fell to the turf, drawing a penalty.
With his country's hopes on the line, Samaras sent his spot kick past goalkeeper Boubacar Barry , who guessed the right way but couldn't keep the ball out.
”We came here to advance from the group stage. We've never done it before, and we did tonight in a great way,” said Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis , a veteran of the team that won the European Championship in 2004. ”The goal should have come earlier. So God helped us in the end and we all thank him. We prevailed against the odds. We had passion and we had fight.”
Veteran striker Didier Drogba started for Ivory Coast along with Yaya and Kolo Toure despite the recent death of their brother Ibrahim. The Ivorians wore black armbands as a sign of mourning.
”The Ivory Coast is a great football nation. And this was a cruel game, a cruel game,” Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi said. ”After so much hard work and so much sacrifice, all of us and everyone in the Ivory Coast is very sad.”
Greece, which had failed to score in the previous two Group C matches, finished second in Group C with four points, behind winner Colombia with nine. Ivory Coast had three and Japan one.
On Tuesday, the Greeks missed a handful of scoring chances against Ivory Coast, hitting the crossbar twice with shots from distance. The Greeks were also forced to make two early substitutions after valuable midfielder Pangiotis Kone and goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis were injured in the first half.
”We found balance tonight. We are not the worst team when we lose or the best when we win,” Greece coach Fernando Santos said. ”To everyone in Greece I say: Go out into the street and celebrate.”
Greece: Orestis Karnezis ( Panagiotis Glykos , 24), Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Kostas Manolas , Jose Holebas , Vassilis Torosidis, Giannis Maniatis , Panagiotis Kone (Andreas Samaris, 12), Lazaros Christodoulopoulos , Giorgos Karagounis (Fanis Gekas, 77), Georgios Samaras, Dimitris Salpingidis.
Ivory Coast: Baboucar Barry, Souleymane Bamba , Arthur Boka , Kolo Toure, Serge Aurier , Ismael Tiote (Wilfried Bony, 61), Yaya Toure , Die Serey, Didier Drogba (Ismaael Diomande, 78), Solomon Kalou, Gervinho (Giovanno Sio, 83)
With agency reports