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It all comes down to this. Greece, the 2004 European champions, find themselves in the middle of a dogfight for second place in Group H of 2018 World Cup qualification.
Belgium have run away with the pool, but the Greeks and Bosnians have been left to battle it out for a playoff spot. Following a defeat to Belgium in September, Greece had to beat Cyprus in Nicosia and hope that Bosnia slip up against the Belgians at home.
In comparison to the disastrous Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Greece have made a huge step forward. New coach Michael Skibbe has managed to restore pride in the national team, picking up some decent results along the way.
However, Greek players have come under fire after a disappointing set of matches in the summer.
The Greeks could only draw 0:0 against the lowly Estonians, before dropping a 1:2 loss to Belgium in a game which Greece should have got something from. A run of five matches without a win left Greece’s World Cup hopes hanging by a thread, but there was still light at the end of the tunnel.
Greece needed Bosnia to drop points against either Belgium or Estonia. To the Greeks’ delight, group winners Belgium gave Greece a lifeline. The Belgians won a thrilling game 4:3 in Bosnia, in turn opening the door for Greece to grab second place.
In order for this to happen, Greece needed to beat Cyprus away. It promised to be a tricky task too, especially given that Cyprus had beaten Bosnia 3:2 at home a month ago.
The Sotiriou shock
Not completely out of contention themselves, Cyprus made a strong start in Nicosia.
Copenhagen striker Pieros Sotiriou sent the Greek fans into shock on eighteen minutes – racing past the static away defence, he slotted beyond Orestis Karnezis at the second attempt.
Things were looking grim for Greece, but the team found an instant response. Hitman Kostas Mitroglou equalised just six minutes later, scoring with an arrowed effort from the edge of the box. Alexandros Tziolis then planted a firm header into the net off Kostas Fortounis’ corner, handing the away side a vital 2:1 advantage.
The Greeks should have killed the game in the second half, however Kostas Mitroglou missed two glorious chances and Petros Mantalos smacked the frame of the goal. Nevertheless, Cyprus never really threatened.
The Greeks hold on to a vital win
Greece duly held on to the 2:1 victory, a win which allows the team to move above Bosnia in the group standings. With their final match coming against winless Gibraltar in Piraeus, it seems unthinkable that the Greeks won’t finish in the second place.
This year, only eight of the nine second placed teams will qualify for the playoffs.
Greece must be playoff favourites
It seemed that Greece would be the unlucky side, but results in Group F have confirmed that if Greece defeat Gibraltar on Tuesday, the team will be in the playoff draw for a place at the 2018 World Cup.
Surely they won’t let the opportunity go begging, will they?
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93
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