GReece Euro ChampionsGreece have done it. Playing in a frozen Donetsk stadium filled to capacity by a very loud Ukrainian crowd, Greece defeated Ukraine 0-1 to claim one of a handful of remaining spots for South Africa’s 2010 World Cup.

The pace of the game was fierce. Ukraine came out of the gates attacking only to find themselves wasting opportunities misfiring from close range or hitting the brick wall that was the Greek defense. As time passed, the Hellenic team improved and countered with a few quality chances that were wasted due to poor finishing. Dimitris Salpigidis miskicked the ball in front of the net with no pressure to throw away his team’s best chance in the first 20 minutes of the game. But just 10 minutes later he made up for the earlier screw up by notching the game’s only goal after receiving a brilliant pass from Giorgos Samaras who plays professional soccer for Celtic.

The goal set the pace for the rest of the game during which Ukraine attacked relentlessly but could not put a ball past Greek goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas. As the second half came near its close, Ukraine became desperate while Greece calmly and brilliantly defended their lead until the final whistle. After the goal, Ukraine needed two goals to qualify since they were playing at home and the first game in Athens last weekend had ended tied with a 0-0 score.

Today must have been coach Otto Rehhagel’s greatest moment since winning the 2004 European Championship with Greece. This was Otto’s 100th game coaching the lowly Greeks and boy was it a good one! His coaching skills have come under fire repeatedly since 2004 after failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and failing to earn a single point in Greece’s second consecutive appearance at the European Championships in 2008.

The boys in blue and white certainly deserve praise for their achievement. Good luck to them in South Africa this summer. They will have to play much better than they did during the qualification stage if they want to have a chance of doing well in the finals with the entire world watching them perform. The last time Greece went to the World Cup in 1994, they failed to even score a goal being humiliated by other teams most notably Argentina with scores such as 4-0. Much has changed since then, and I bet that any team that takes the Greeks lightly will likely pay for it in South Africa.

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