Greece earned a deserved 2-0 victory over Armenia in the Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium thanks to two goals from the lively Themistoklis Nikolaidis, reviving their EURO 2004™ Group 6 qualification hopes.
Purpose and precision
The game was a scrappy affair, with 42 fouls in total, but the Greeks' German coach, Otto Rehhagel, will be pleased with his side's determination following defeats against Spain and Ukraine. Greece dominated the first half from the outset. They attacked with purpose and precision, and reaped an early reward.
Pinpoint free kick
After two minutes, playmaker Vassilios Tsartas drifted in a pinpoint free-kick from the right-hand side and an unmarked Nikolaidis placed his header past stranded goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky.
The goal only added to Greece's confidence. The first half contained a catalogue of free-kicks for the hosts, and Tsartas's dangerous deliveries worried the Armenian defence time and again.
Yet the visitors did have one golden first-half opportunity. Artur Petrosyan wriggled free on the right, hit the by-line and pulled the ball back for Artavazd Karamyan, who sidefooted over from eight metres.This chance heralded a brief Armenian revival, with Petrosyan and Artur Voskanyan pulling the strings. However, Greece came storming back as half-time approached.
Goal at his mercy
Nikolaidis should have doubled his tally after a Tsartas backheel found him in space with the goal at his mercy. His shot was saved and he connected with nothing but air as he swung at the rebound.
Greece looked content to sit on their lead after the break but this confidence threatened to turn into complacency, with Armenia threatening to snatch an equaliser. On 59 minutes, though, Greece scored a crucial second goal. Harutyun Vardanyan failed to clear and the impressive Angelos Basinas made an interception and slid the ball through to an unmarked Nikolaidis. He made no mistake, chipping the ball into the goal.
The game turned scrappy thereafter, and three players were booked during a bad-tempered three-minute spell. First Khose Bilibo, then Basinas and finally Traianos Dellas all went into the referee's book. Nikolaidis could have had his hat-trick in the final minute, but he was denied by a superb block from substitute Eghishin Melikyan.