The name of Dimitris Salpingidis will enjoy a massive chorus of praise after the diminutive striker scored the only goal of the game to send Greece to South Africa. Greece became the latest team to qualify by virtue of the 0-1 win, and will line-up in only its second World Cup ever.
‘King’ Otto, in his 100th game in charge of Greece caused a minor stir ahead of kick-off, electing to leave Europe’s top scorer Theofanis Gekkas on the bench in favour of Euro 2004 hero Angelos Charisteas.
After the two sides shared the spoils in their 0-0 draw in Athens on Saturday, Greece needed a win or any scored draw to qualify. But the Greek defence held firm, anchored by Liverpool and former-AEK man Sotiris Kyrgiakos.
Despite losing Genoa centre back Socratis Papastathopoulos in the first half through injury, Rehhagel’s makeshift defence remained solid despite Ukraine’s best efforts.
Both sides began brightly as it looked as though an open game was at hand, with the hosts having several chances to open the scoring.
Alexandros Tzorvas saved a long-range shot in the 8th minute while Andrei Shevchenko blasted his shot wide after Tzorvas had made another low save.
Not to be outdone, Greece fashioned to classic chances to open the scoring. Ukraine’s defence failed its first test when Giorgos Samaras rose unchallenged to head a Giorgos Karagounis cross inches above the crossbar.
It was a sign of things to come.
Moments later Charisteas and Samaras combined to peel open the yellow defence on the left side. When the ball found the unmarked Salpingidis, he should have tested the goal keeper but scuffed his shot.
When Papastathopoulos was carried from the ground injured, Rehhagel was forced to bring in another ex-AEK talent, Vassilis Pliatsikas, who slotted in on the left.
Despite the change, Greece then stunned the home crowd with a well worked goal by Salpingidis who made up for his earlier mistake.
Samaras found himself in space and played in a fantastic through ball to Salpingidis who timed his run to perfection to slot the ball past Pyatov with 32 minutes on the clock for only his second international goal.
The goal was well deserved, and put Greece within reaching distance of the World Cup berth. But Ukraine almost hit back just before the stroke of half time, Shevchenko and a team-mate botched what looked like a certain goal from a corner, with Kyrgiakos’ pressure sending the ball out for a goal kick.
Knowing they needed at least two goals to advance to the World Cup finals, Ukraine started the second half brightly and went close through Yeugen who got on the end of a Shevchenko pass but fired straight at Tzorvas who was looking comfortable despite being tested.
Yaroslav Rakitskyy then forced Tzorvas into an acrobatic stop when he palmed away his low and curling free kick in the 57th minute, as Ukraine continued to push.
Moments after coming on, Yevgen Seleznov twisted and turned on the edge of the Greek penalty area before firing an effort which just went over the bar.
With 25 minutes remaining, Gekas came on and like Seleznov before him, got involved in the action immediately. After receiving the ball from Charisteas, Gekas looked to have an entry onto goal, but was disposed of after trying to turn inside a defender.
Playing for their World Cup lives, Ukraine pushed men forward and left gaps at the back as they tried to break down a solid Greek defence.
Ukraine found it hard to create any clear cut opportunities in the second 45 as the Greeks took the fizz out of the game. But Greece held on for a famous victory and a deserved spot in South Africa. Despite the side’s absences, they won away from home at a difficult opponent.
Ukraine will miss out despite their promise in making the quarter finals in Germany in 2006.