Dimitris Salpigidis scored the only goal as Greece clinched a place at the 2010
World Cup courtesy of a narrow victory over Ukraine at the Donbass Arena in
Salpigidis timed his run to perfection just after the half-hour mark to clip a
composed finish beyond Ukraine goalkeeper Andrei Piatov, following Celtic
striker Giorgos Samaras' superb through-ball.
Alexei Mikhailichenko's side, needing to score twice to keep their
qualification hopes alive, penned the Greeks in the own half for long spells in
the second half but failed to breach a visiting rearguard inspired by goalkeeper
Alexandros Tzorvas, who made a string of fine saves.
It is the first time Greece, the 2004 European Champions, have qualified for a
World Cup since 1994 in the United States.
Ukraine had the advantage going into the game after they held Greece to a
goalless draw in Saturday's first leg in Athens, and the hosts began brightly
amid driving rain.
And they should have been ahead after seven minutes when Andrey Shenchenko
blazed wastefully over the crossbar with the goal gaping as he followed up
Oleksandr Aliyev's shot.
Greece responded through Samaras, who headed narrowly over from Giorgos
Karagounis's right-wing free-kick.
The hosts continued to push forward and Aliyev's free-kick was brilliantly
saved by Greek goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas.
In keeping with the pattern of the match, it was Greece's turn to go forward
next and the visitors missed a golden chance to score a minute later when
Salpigidis miskicked with only the keeper to beat after neat interplay down the
left involving Angelos Charisteas and Nikos Spiropoulos.
Salpigidis, who worked tirelessly down the right, atoned for his error in the
31st minute, latching on to Samaras' sublime pass and slipping a low shot past
Piatov and into the bottom corner.
Having held on to their lead comfortably until half-time, Greece found
themselves on the backfoot in the second half as Ukraine pushed for an
Each time the hosts threatened, though, they were denied by Tzorvas, the
Panathinaikos keeper making a smart saves from Aliyev's free-kick and
Shevchenko's shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Otto Rehhagel introduced Theofanis Gekas, top scorer in qualifying with 10
goals, for Samaras just after the hour mark in an effort to refresh his
frontline, but it was Ukraine who continued to press forward.
For all their neat passing, however, there was little penetration from the
hosts and Theofanis Gekas should have done better when he was sent clear by
Spiropoulos's long ball on the counter.
The Bayer Leverkusen man inexplicably opted to slow down and try to turn the
last defender and the ball got caught under his feet and the chance was gone.
Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, a peripheral figure in the Ukraine midfield, passed up a
good chance to score with just three minutes left, blazing over when presented
with time and space 18 yards from goal.
And there was still time for Tzorvas to make another diving save from Yevgev
Seleznov as Greece held firm to seal their place in South Africa.
Greece striker Angelos Charisteas toasted another significant chapter in Greek
football after Otto Rehhagel's team claimed a place at the 2010 World Cup at the
expense of Ukraine.
''This is a very important moment for Greek football. It's simply fantastic,''
said Charisteas, the man who scored the winner in the final against Portugal at
Euro 2004. ''We played very well throughout the game, especially in the first half. We got
the lead thanks to a beautiful goal from Dimitris Salpigidis and then we held
them comfortably, I thought.
''We had to defend well in the second half but we were determined and we are
going to the World Cup.''
''It's a massive success for us,'' added goal hero Salpigidis, who showed great
composure to slot the ball past Alexei Piatov after being played in by Celtic
frontman Giorgos Samaras' sublime through-ball.
''It's a day of celebration for Greeks all over the world. All those people who
have made negative comments during these past few days now have their answer
from what we have done on the pitch. We have answered our critics.''
Mikhailichenko was understandably despondent after his side's defeat.
''I feel very disappointed and sad that we lost,'' he said. ''There are no
excuses. The boys did everything they could to try and get the win but they
''We were a little out of luck. I can't say that my team played badly. I
believe that the team which deserved to go to the World Cup has won.''