Wednesday 21 February 2018

Greece do Ireland a favour and take big step towards qualification for World Cup

Greece's Giorgos Samaras (C) jumps for the ball next to Romania's Florin Gardos (R)
Greece's Giorgos Samaras (C) jumps for the ball next to Romania's Florin Gardos (R)

Greece will take a two-goal lead to Romania for the second leg of their World Cup qualifying play-off after Konstantinos Mitroglou's brace decided a 3-1 victory in Piraeus.

The result ensure that the Republic of Ireland will be second seed in the draw for the Euro 2016 Qualifiers and Romania will be third seeds.

The Olympiacos striker stole the show in his club's own stadium, opening the scoring when Romania mistimed an offside trap before notching his second from close range in the 67th minute.

Mitroglou's goals arrived either side of Romania's equaliser - a firm header from Bogdan Stancu - and Dimitris Salpingidis' regulation conversion at the end of a defence-splitting Greek raid.

Romania, who finished second to Holland in Group D, must now overturn the deficit in Bucharest in Tuesday if they are to reach Brazil, while Greece need only resist the backlash to book their third appearance at the summer finals.

It was a tense start in Piraeus as the play-off rivals sized one other up, Gabriel Torje's speculative shot from distance the only notable Romania were caught out in the 14th minute, though, and conceded the first goal when their offside trap failed to spring in time.

With a pair of Greek forwards lurking on two corners of the box, Romania's backline pushed forward to catch them out only for Mitroglou to skip through the middle and volley home Salpingidis' hooked ball over the top.

Victor Piturca's men responded to the setback almost immediately and drew level, however briefly, in the 18th minute.

It looked an awkward angle for Torje to shoot from as he lined up a free-kick on the left side of the Greek box, and the better option was to loft the ball to the far post where Stancu headed it across the goalmouth and in.

Greece snatched their lead back three minutes later.

For the third time in seven minutes an eye-catching aerial pass led to a fine goal and this time it was Georgios Samaras who drifted the ball over the Romanian back four with a deft flick.

The sprinting Vasilis Torosidis caught its descent perfectly, clipping along the six-yard box with a sweet connection that met the sliding Salpingidis for an easy finish.

Razvan Cocis might have dragged Romania level before the break, but he failed to connect properly with a close-range effort.

For much of the second half it appeared the fizz had disappeared from the game, until Mitroglou found his second goal of the night to effectively settle the match.

Once again Samaras provided the killer pass, his free-kick from the left glanced over to the back post by Konstantinos Katsouranis. Mitroglou did the rest.

He was not satisfied and came close to completing a hat-trick in the 71st minute, but visiting goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont parried his effort out for a corner.

It was a poor night for Romania, who could take some comfort from scoring what might be a vital away goal, even if the prospect of a first World Cup appearance since 1998 had moved significantly further away in Athens.

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