Greece edges closer to World Cup - The Best from Greece

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Posted on: 12/Oct/2009

Greece could be just a win away from clinching automatic qualification to the World Cup in South Africa next year, after an entertaining 5-2 win over Latvia in Athens on Saturday, although a place in the play-off round still looks the most likely outcome.

In its final regular qualification game, the national side faces Luxembourg at the Olympic Stadium in Athens on Wednesday, with the knowledge that a win will definitely secure it second place in Group 2 and a play-off over two legs with another second-placed team.

However, should group leader Switzerland, who is three points ahead of Greece, slip up against Israel on the same night, coach Otto Rehhagel’s men would pip the Swiss to the automatic berth for South Africa if they gain a victory over Luxembourg.

This was made possible by a performance on Saturday that ranged between the sublime and the ridiculous. Having taken a lead in the first 5 minutes through a header from Bayer Leverkusen striker Fanis Gekas, Greece got caught on the counterattack by the nimble Latvians who produced two wonderful goals through forward Maris Verpakovskis, who plays his club soccer on Crete with Ergotelis.

Greece went in 2-1 down at half-time and the sparse crowd of just under 19,000 fans, including many schoolchildren, feared that the dream of Greece making it to just its second World Cup was vanishing before their eyes.

However, an all-out attacking performance in the second half, which saw Gekas score another three, one from a controversial penalty, and Celtic striker Giorgos Samaras get a goal with an acrobatic overhead kick, reversed the mood dramatically.

“We got the perfect start but, after that, we made some mistakes and at half-time we were dizzy, like a boxer on the ropes,” said Rehhagel.

The Greece coach added that he and his players had “a good discussion” at half-time but refused to give details of what was said in the dressing room.

“In the second half, we produced some great attacking soccer and took the chances that came our way.”


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