Georgios Samaras scored a late penalty in stoppage time to send Greece through to the Round of 16, while Ivory Coast will feel demoralized after being so close to advancing.
Controversy surrounded this nerve-wrecking game in Group C as Greece snuck through to the second round of the World Cup finals after facing a more-fancied Ivory Coast side. The defining moment happened deep into injury time when Greece striker Georgios Samaras seemed to tumble over in the opposition penalty area after minimal contact from an Ivory Coast defender. The former Celtic forward then dusted himself down to score the resultant penalty kick and send the Greek supporters into joyous delirium. Ivory Coast will be left to rue their lack of creativity as they had the majority of the ball but couldn’t fashion enough chances to dismantle a resilient Greece side.
Whilst both teams sought a favor from Colombia in their game against Japan, Ivory Coast went into this game knowing that a win will ensure their qualification into the next round. The Elephants were set up by Sabri Lamouchi in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-1-3 as Didier Drogba was given his first start in this World Cup. The Ivory Coast skipper was flanked by Gervinho and Salomon Kalou. Yaya Toure, who along with his brother Kolo was mourning the passing away of their younger brother Ibrahim, was the other piece of an impressive-looking attacking quartet. The Ivory Coast players wore black armbands in remembrance of Ibrahim Toure and as a show of support to their team-mates.
On the other hand, Greece played in their usual defensive 4-3-3 formation with a front three of Panagiotis Kone, Georgios Samaras and Dimitrios Salpingidis. The skipper Georgios Karagounis (replacing the suspended Katsouranis) played alongside the impressive Christodoulopoulos Lazaros and Ioannis Maniatis in midfield ahead of the central pairing of Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Konstantinos Manolas. Greece knew that only a win will suffice along with a victory for Colombia but the odds were not in their favor.
The first twenty-five minutes were a stop-start affair with play being affected by the heat in Fortaleza and injuries to Holebas, Kone and goalkeeper Karnezis of Greece. The latter two ended up having to leave the field due to hamstring and lower back injuries respectively. However, as the first half progressed Greece were becoming more and more dangerous on the counterattack, especially from opposition set-pieces. On 32 minutes, an Ivory Coast corner ended in a quick counterattack for the Europeans with Samaras finding Holebas with a precise through-ball. The latter’s effort from outside the area crashed the crossbar with Barry, the Ivory Coast goalkeeper, beaten.
The Elephants were not so lucky ten minutes later as a careless Tiote pass was intercepted deep into Ivory Coast territory with Samaras setting Samaris with another accurate pass with the Greek midfielder firing the ball past Barry into the net.
In the second half, Ivory Coast continued to dominate possession but the Greeks continued to have the best chances. Sokratis and Manolas were impressive at the back with Olympiakos defender producing a last-ditch tackle on Kalou who was through on goal in the first few minutes. Glykos, Karnezis’ replacement in the first half, looked shaky when dealing with crosses but the elephants still failed to really test him until Bony was introduced instead of Tiote in a bold move from Lamouchi.
As the news of Colombia regaining the lead against Japan reached Fortaleza, both teams knew that qualifying was in their own hands with Ivory Coast just needed a draw.
Karagounis saw a 35-yard strike crash against the crossbar after 67 minutes but five minutes later, Bony equalized after a rare lapse of concentration form the Greek backline. Sokratis kept Gervinho onside whose pass found Bony alone in front of Glykos who was hapless as the Swansea striker’s shot flew past him.
Greece hit the woodwork for a third time after 79 minutes after Totosidis’ cross crashed against the post. Santos, the Greek manager, through on Gekas as a final roll of the dice but the Greeks looked uncomfortable as their counter-attacking style was now useless as they were chasing the game.
However, a moment of controversy in the 92nd minute broke Ivory Coast hearts as Samaras cooly slotted his penalty past the despairing arms of Barry. Greece will now face Costa Rica with one of the two sides guaranteed an unlikely place in the quarter finals.
No goals in their first two games and qualifying due to a last minute penalty in their final group game…Greece are the masters of “doing just enough”.
Final score: Greece 2-1 Ivory Coast (watch the match highlights).
Stadium: Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza
Referee: Carlos Vera (Ecuador)
Karnezis,(24′ Glykos); Torosidis, Manolas, Papastathopoulos, Holebas; Maniatis, Lazaros, Karagounis (77′ Gekas); Kone (12′ Samaris), Salpingidis, Samaras
Ivory Coast (4-2-1-3)
Barry; Aurier, K. Toure, Bamba, Boka; Tiote (60′ Bony), Serey; Y. Toure; Gervinho (82′ Sio), S. Kalou, Drogba (78′ Diomande)