Greece for Russia 2018: The Pirate Ship clinch a hard-fought playoff spot

Job done.

It wasn’t easy for Greece, but the team defeated Gibraltar 4:0 on the final day of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign to seal second spot in Group H. Yes, the opponents were only Gibraltar, however the stakes couldn’t have been higher for the Greeks.

Following Greece’s two poor results against Estonia and Belgium in August, it looked as though the Greeks would miss out on second place. However, a costly slip-up by Bosnia at home to Belgium opened the door for Greece to sneak in ahead of the Bosnians and nick second.

Greece duly defeated Cyprus on the same day 2:1 in Nicosia, a victory which put the team in pole position to come in second behind the Belgians. In order for that to happen, Greece had to beat lowly Gibraltar at home, a country which had lost all previous nine games in the group.


Reason for concern

Greece were huge favourites for the match, but there was reason for concern.

The Greeks famously lost two games to the Faroe Islands two years ago, results which proved that nothing can be taken for granted. An expectant Greek crowd didn’t have much to cheer about in the first half either, as Greece struggled to break down the stubborn Gibraltar defence.

Nevertheless, with the break looming, the hosts scored the goal which allowed the stadium to exhale. Vasilis Torosidis met Carlos Zeca’s superb cross with a thumping header, giving Greece a vital breakthrough.

The Greeks had been bang average in the first 45, but the players stepped up the intensity in the second. Kostas Mitroglou finished the match as a contest, slotting home from close range after brilliant interchange play.

The strong Marseille forward then grabbed his second of the match moments later, slamming a loose ball past flailing Gibraltar goalkeeper Deren Ibrahim. In complete control of proceedings, Greece rounded off matters with a fourth on 78 minutes.

The impressive Kostas Stafylidis found substitute Giannis Gianniotas with a fantastic pass, and the latter headed into the net to seal a 4:0 victory.


Flickers of that Euro 2004-winning side

Over the course of the group, Greece showed glimpses of the team which won Euro 2004.

Equipped with a watertight defence, the team conceded only six goals in ten games and was the only country to take points off Belgium. Next up – the playoffs, something which promises to be a real challenge for Michael Skibbe’s men.

One of the unseeded teams, the Greeks will most likely be pitted up against either Italy, Croatia, Denmark or Switzerland in the playoffs. Still, having negotiated a tough group with Belgium and Bosnia, the players have nothing to fear.

After the awful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, the Greeks have become a united team again, a team which the Greek people can finally be proud of. The final step is always the hardest, but Greece are on the right track.


Written by Shaun Nicolaides

Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93

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