Greece striker Angelos Charisteas toasted another significant chapter in Greek football after Otto Rehhagel’s team claimed a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa at the expense of Ukraine.
Greece defeated Alexei Mikhailichenko’s men 1-0 at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk courtesy of Dimitris Salpingidis’ composed first-half finish, the only goal of the tie, following Saturday’s 0-0 draw in Athens.
The 2004 European champions then weathered the storm as Ukraine fought back, with goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas particularly impressive for Rehhagel’s side.
It is only the second time ever that Greece have qualified for a world finals, coming 16 years after their first appearance in the United States in 1994 – when they lost all three group matches without scoring “This is a very important moment for Greek football. It’s simply fantastic,” said Charisteas, the man who scored the winner in the final against Portugal at UEFA EURO 2004.
“We played very well throughout the game, especially in the first half. We got the lead thanks to a beautiful goal from Dimitris Salpingidis and then we held them comfortably, I thought,” he added. “We had to defend well in the second half but we were determined and we are going to the World Cup.”
“It’s a massive success for us,” added goal hero Salpingidis, who showed great composure to slot the ball past Alexei Piatov after being played in by Celtic frontman Giorgos Samaras’ sublime through-ball. “It’s a day of celebration for Greeks all over the world.
“All those people who have made negative comments during these past few days now have their answer from what we have done on the pitch. We have answered our critics.”
“I’m proud of my players. They put all of their heart and soul into today’s match,” said Greece coach Otto Rehhagel. “It was really tough to contain Ukraine’s attacks throughout the match but we did our best and luckily we managed to do it and achieve the desired result.”
“The Ukrainians had very good combinations, but our strategy with the counter attacks bore fruits. We knew from various analysis that they couldn’t score easily, despite they have great forwards and we took advantage of it. We were missing many players and we ended up playing with 10 players due to injuries,” he told a press conference.
“I was very happy for all my players, because they did what I asked them.”
When confronted by a Ukrainian journalist about the Greeks style of play, the German suggested that they make the best of what they have in terms of personnel.
“We would play nice football, if we had Kaka, [Lionel] Messi and Xavi,” he declared.
Mikhailichenko was understandably despondent after his side’s defeat.
“I feel very disappointed and sad that we lost,” he said. “There are no excuses. The boys did everything they could to try and get the win but they didn’t succeed. We were a little out of luck. I can’t say that my team played badly. I believe that the team which deserved to go to the World Cup has won.”