Greece 2 Ivory Coast 1: Three talking points
Greece 2 Ivory Coast 1: Three talking points as Fernando Santos's men reach the knockout stage
Greece do miracles
Greece provided world football with one of its biggest shocks when they upset hosts Portugal to win Euro 2004. Otto Rehhagel’s side used a defensive set-up and sought to be ruthless on the break. It worked 10 years ago – and it is working at this World Cup under his successor, Fernando Santos. Greece were bottom of Group C ahead of their showdown with Ivory Coast on Tuesday evening, but finished as runners-up after a dramatic 94 minutes. With two minutes of injury time remaining, it looked like one miracle too many for Santos’s men. Greece hit the woodwork a staggering three times, with their stout defence suffering one momentary lapse which resulted in Wilfried Bony’s goal. But Greece deserved to progress for their attacking endeavour and resolute defending – and benefitted from a slice of fortune. Ivory Coast substitute Giovanni Sio was bravely penalised by the Ecuadorian referee for clipping Georgios Samaras, and the Celtic forward tucked his finish away in the second minute of injury time. It continues Greece’s theme of beating the odds at major tournaments. At Euro 2012, Greece were bottom of their group with one point from two games but reached the knockout stage thanks to a 1-0 win against Russia. Lightening does strike twice.
Ivory Coast’s big-name stars missing from limelight
Tragically, the younger brother of Kolo and Yaya Toure died last Friday. Ibrahim, who played for Lebanon-based side Al Safa, is reported to have spent his final days in Manchester whilst the pair were competing in the World Cup. The Toure brothers decided to remain in Brazil ahead of their Group C decider, but Yaya was unusually quiet against Greece. He wasn’t the only Elephants star who was muted as Didier Drogba looked a shadow of the striker that formally terrorised Premier League defence and Gervinho was wasteful throughout. While Greece deserve credit for a resolute defensive performance, Ivory Coast played into the European side’s hands with their sluggish approach play. Perhaps eptimosing an Elephants’s display that lacked sensible decision-making, 31-year-old two-time Premier League winner Yaya attempted to net a winner instead of taking the ball to the corner and running down the clock in the 91st minute. On such small margins are World Cup games decided. It means Africa’s hopes of a last-16 representative now rest with Algeria and Ghana.
Thin White Line: Papastathopoulos and Manolas shine
Do the names Michalis Kapsis and Traianos Dellas sound familar? Well they should. The centre-half duo were the rocks at the heart of Greece’s Euro 2004 championship win – and it appears Greece have two worthy successors. Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kostas Manolas came up against Chelsea and Ivory Coast legend Drogba, as well as in-form Gervinho and Yaya Toure. Despite the attacking quality on show, the Greek pair rarely looked trouble as they showcased their excellent reading of the game and positional play. When Ivory Coast did manage to seemingly wrestle their way past Papastathopoulos or Manolas, a goal-saving tackle would leave the Africans frustrated. The best example of this came in the 57th minute when a neat interchange between Drogba and Salomon Kalou looked certain to result in a goal. But Manolas nipped in to put the ball out for a corner just as the former Chelsea winger went to pull the trigger. 26-year-old Papastathopoulos impressed at Borussia Dortmund last season and won’t be going anywhere this summer, but his defensive partner Manolas could prove an astute summer buy for European clubs looking to strengthen their defence.