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Jun 24, 2014

Greece stun Ivory Coast to progress

Greece's Georgios Samaras converted a stoppage time penalty to send his team to the Round of 16.

Three thoughts from Greece's incredible late 2-1 win over Ivory Coast.

1. Greek joy at the death

Greece had not been to the last 16 of the World Cup before Tuesday night and they got there with seconds to spare. In injury time, Georgios Samaras went down in the box after Ivory Coast substitute Giovanni Sio's tackle. From some angles, the replay makes it seem as though Samaras may have clipped his own heel, causing himself to slip, but this will be a point of debate as the result is digested.

GreeceGreece
Ivory CoastIvory Coast
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ESPN2, ESPN3 FT
Match 38
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What matters most is that Samaras converted the penalty to score just his ninth goal for Greece and boot the Ivorian golden generation out of the World Cup. Greece had been the more enterprising side throughout the match and threatened almost every time they got away to make up for a goal drought earlier in the tournament. Their first goal came in this match after a 3-0 defeat to Colombia and a goalless draw with Japan, but it was conceivable that it was all they needed to progress.

It was not all they were willing to settle for though. Unlike in their previous matches, Greece showed more intent throughout this encounter and made better use of their forwards. They hit the crossbar twice and both times goalkeeper Boubacar Barry would have had no chance if the woodwork had not saved him. They were strong on the attack and patient in waiting for the Ivorians to take the ball forward before Greece were able to win it back and counter.

The pressure Greece applied may leave some wondering whether they could have done better in the group had they played this way all along, and will have others looking forward to their clash against Costa Rica. 2004, anyone?

2. Another comeback but this time not enough

Until the final minute of the game, Ivory Coast had reason to regard themselves as the tournament's most successful comeback kids. For the third time in their third match at this World Cup, they found themselves a goal down and were able to recover; indeed, this time it looked as though their resurgence would be enough to see them through to the knockouts.

Ivory Coast looked up for it from opening moments of the contest, which they began with some nifty one-twos, but they could not find the final touch. The timing of the crosses was always a second off, but that did not deter them even after they went a goal down. They began the second half with as much feistiness as they did the first, took control of proceedings and regularly advanced toward the Greek box.

Gervinho was the architect of any enterprise, as he had been throughout the competition so far, and it was ultimately the Roma man who was instrumental in the equaliser. HIs pass found Wilfried Bony, who scored the goal the African side believed would put them into their first knockout round at a World Cup. The reality is that Gervinho and Bony will be among the few players who will have the opportunity to try to reach that goal again; Ivory Coast's legendary generation will not be back.

Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers do not have major international success to match their reputations at club level and this was supposed to be the tournament in which that changed. What will hurt more is that Greece were the team they were earmarked to beat. They could do neither.

A late, late penalty was enough to send Greece through.

3. The Drogba effect

After coming off the bench in the first two matches, Drogba was reinstated as captain and put into the starting XI at the expense of Bony. That decision was questionable for two reasons: Drogba had been battling a hamstring injury and Bony had been a successful starter and, as we saw, a successful substitute, so perhaps Sabri Lamouchi should have stuck with him.

The rookie coach chose to lean on his talisman instead in a match that was expected to be emotionally charged for the Ivorians. Not only were they on the brink of something special, but the Toure brothers -- Yaya relieved of the armband -- had agreed to play even though their brother Oyala Ibrahim had passed away of cancer earlier in the week. Combined with landslides in the country, the match was expected to be an emotionally charged affair for Ivory Coast and it was thought Drogba's temperament would calm them down.

Although he was an immense figure up front, he did not find himself on the right end of any of the crosses that came his way and there was no Midas touch from him. Despite that, he was appreciated by fans in Fortaleza, who chanted his name when he was replaced after 78 minutes. Little did they know that it may have been the last time he graces the international stage.

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