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FIFA World Cup: Greece beat 10-man Nigeria 2-1

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vasileios_torosidis.jpgGreece registered their first win at the FIFA World Cup finals in their 5th attempt, as they beat 10 man Nigeria 2-1 in a Group B fixture on Thursday. It was a crucial match for both sides, after losses in the first round of matches had left their participation hanging in the balance. But the earlier 4-1 drubbing of South Korea by Argentina left the door open for anyone willing to be adventurous enough to go all out for a win.

Greece started the match the only way we can expect them to: a total lack of ambition, playing five at the back with a focus on breaking down the opposition's game. Nigeria, to their credit, started with an attacking mind-set, with three strikers up front. Surprisingly, former Inter Milan striker Obafemi Martins was left on the bench despite a good showing as a substitute in the previous match against Argentina.

The opening quarter of an hour was completely devoid of any action, which made the number of empty seats around the stadium look understandable. No team got deep into the other side's half, although Nigeria clearly seemed to be more intent than Greece, even if only just slightly. Thankfully, for all neutral viewers hoping the game would open up, Nigeria struck.

Greek defender Papastathapoulos hauled back Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie as he rushed forward, earning himself the first yellow card of the match. Kalu Uche curled the ensuing free kick into the penalty area, and a spurt of onrushing Nigerian players across the six yards box diverted the Greek goalkeeper Tzorvas' attention. Tzorvas dived anticipating a touch, but none came and Nigeria went 1-0 up thanks to the first goal from a direct free kick of the 2010 World Cup.

Until the half hour mark, Nigeria were in total control of the game, with Greece hardly making any forays into Nigerian territory, and some suspect goalkeeping from Tzorvas gave Nigeria belief that they could add another goal before half time. But all of a sudden, the entire dynamic of the game changed.

Sani Kaita and Vasilis Torosidis wrestled for the ball as it went out of play near the half way line, and Kaita, in a moment of complete and utter madness, kicked out at Torosidis on his hip. Despite minimal force in the kick, Torosidis rolled around on the floor and the referee sent off Kaita. To be fair to the referee, whether or not Kaita struck Torosidis hard, it was a red card offence.

Emboldened due to their numerical advantage, Greek coach Otto Rehhagel brought on striker Georgios Samaras in place of a defender, changing the team's formation to an attack-minded 4-3-3. Greece were suddenly the team on top, camping in the Nigerian half for long spells. The Nigerian keeper, Enyeama, needed to be alert soon after to grab the ball off Greek striker Dimitrios Salpingidis' feet, and later Samaras had a header cleared off the line.

The Greek pressure finally paid off just before half time. A cross from the left into the box was laid on to Dimitrios Salpingidis, who was lurking just beyond the Nigerian penalty area. The Greek striker smashed in a shot that took a wicked deflection and hit the back of the net. It was a cruel blow to Nigeria, with replays showing their keeper Enyeama easily had the original shot covered, but what mattered was the Greece were level.

Greece were in control again as the second half begun, confident that they could snatch a crucial win. But it was Nigeria who nearly took the lead. The move began with an error in their own defence, as Nigerian skipper Joseph Yobo headed the ball to Theofanis Gekas in his own penalty area when he could have let it go out. Enyeama saved Gekas' effort brilliantly, and as the ball was hacked clear a triumvirate of Nigerian players rushed forward against an outnumbered Greek defence. Ogbuke released Yakubu through the middle, and the Everton striker ran into the Greek penalty area clear on goal but Tzorvas blocked the shot brilliantly with a strong . The loose ball fell to Ogbuke, who had the entire goal to aim at but somehow fired wide from the right edge of the six yard box.

Normal play resumed after that, but the Greeks frustratingly resorted to shots from way out. Enyeama was forced to make another blinder of a save, when Samaras struck a powerful header back across goal from a corner. Enyeama just about reached the ball at full stretch, and Nigeria were hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

Having been the Nigerian hero ever since Kaita's sending off, Enyeama made a costly mistake that gifted Greece their second goal. Another tame long range effort came straight at him, but somehow he managed to spill it and Vasilis Torisidis was the first man to react, tapping in from a couple of yards out to put Greece deservingly ahead. Enyeama may put the blame on the Jabulani ball, but truth be told it was straight at him, and the save was as routine as Robert Green's against USA, if not more.

Yakubu tried to snatch an opportunistic goal, as he snapped a shot with his left foot after working a yard of space, but it went a yard wide of the post. Enyeama was called on again as Karagounis struck from distance. The ball bounced awkwardly in front of him but luckily there wasn't another spill.

After that, Greece worked hard on slowing down the game, satisfied with the one goal lead. Nigeria's gameplay showed signs of desperation, as players tried from ridiculous distances when they were unable to force their way through the Greek defense. Passes started going astray, and when given a glorious opportunity at the death to pour men forward from a free kick, the cross was easily cleared and Samaras broke forward towards the corner flag to trickle down the remaining few seconds.

In the end Nigeria only had themselves to blame. Kaita got himself pointlessly sent off in the first half, at a time when his team were cruising. The red card turned the game on its head, and credit must go to Greek coach Otto Rehhagel, who brought on a striker for a defender as soon as they had a numerical advantage come their way. The first Greek goal had a huge element of luck, while Enyaema should have done a lot better in handling the shot that resulted in Greece's second.

As for Greece, many would have thought that their campaign had ended when they went 1-0 down as early as the 15th minute, but fortune favoured them and they were well organised while pressuring the Nigerians. They had as many as 27 efforts, with 11 hitting the target. Georgios Karagounis was brilliant in midfield, probing Enyeama with a number of long range efforts and also distributing the ball well. The numerical advantage was clearly important, but one doubts if they'll be able to shock Argentina, as they face the mighty South Americans in their final Group match.

Today's results also mean that a number of permutations and combinations exist for the two teams that'll go through. If Nigeria defeat South Korea in their final tie, and Greece lose to Argentina, there would be a three-way tie for second place. Also, if Greece upset Argentina (if Switzerland could defeat Spain, we surely have to consider this as a possibility), and South Korea defeat Nigeria, Argentina could yet be eliminated at the group stage, although their 4-1 drubbing of South Korea earlier today may just be crucial. The World Cup may have had a boring first round of matches, but it looks like we're being set up for a nerve-wracking climax to the Group Stage.

Line-ups:

Greece (5-3-2): Tzorvas; Papadopoulos, Kyrgiakos, Papastathopoulos (Samaras 37'), Torosidis, Vyntra; Katsouranis, Tziolis, Karagounis; Gekas (Ninis 79'), Salpingidis

Nigeria (4-3-3): Enyeama; Shittu, Yobo, Taiwo (Echijile 55', Afolabi 77'), Odiah; Haruna, Etuhu, Kaita; Uche, Yakubu, Odemwingie (Ogbuke 45')

Final Score: Greece 2 -1 Nigeria (Greece: Salpingidis 44', Torosidis 71', Nigeria: Uche 16')

Check out the Points Table

Also Read: Argentina 4 - 1 South Korea (Match Report)

File Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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