Two goals from Angelos Charisteas secured Greece a 2-0 victory over nine-man Northern Ireland in their EURO 2004™ Group 6 qualifier. The win reignited Greece’s hopes of qualifying for Portugal but left a deflated Northern Irish side bottom of the group without a win in 17 months and no goals in 792 minutes.
Northern Ireland created the first opening in the opening minute but Grant McCann’s header from a looping Keith Gillespie cross fell into the arms of goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis. Greece gave early warning of their attacking threat a minute later as Stylianos Giannakopoulos met a loose ball six metres from the Northern Ireland goal but home goalkeeper Maik Taylor did well to parry the low drive.
However, the visitors were ahead on three minutes when Angelos Charisteas raced on to a pass from Vassilios Tsartas to round Taylor before rolling the ball into the empty net. The goal certainly settled Greece and the impressive Tsartas was at the centre of most of their good work through the middle of the pitch. The playmaker almost picked out Charisteas once again on six minutes but the home defence was alert to the danger.
Lomas fires over
Northern Ireland did, however, create some space along the flanks with Gillespie finding McCann at the back post on 12 minutes only for Steve Lomas to fire over the crossbar from eight metres.
Kyrgiakos and Quinn clash
Lomas then pulled back a ball from the by-line on 17 minutes but Nikolaos Dabizas cleared the danger and as the subsequent attack pettered out defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos collapsed holding his face as James Quinn closed in.
Three minutes later Quinn was left on the ground by a stray Greek arm and was forced off the field for treatment. Tempers continued to simmer as a number of niggling challenges disrupted any flow to the match. Then on 40 minutes Quinn's frustrations boiled over and a high challenge Karagounis led to the striker receiving a red card.
Architects of downfall
Northern Ireland continued to be architects of their own downfall early in the second half and on 55 minutes a poor back pass from George McCartney ran to Charisteas who hit the ball beyond the stranded Taylor to double the visitor's advantage.
Greece made their one-man advantage count from that point as Northern Ireland were forced into energy-sapping hunts for the ball. However, the tireless Gillespie intercepted a pass only to have his progress towards goal blocked by the imposing Kyrgiakos who was yellow-carded. On 69 minutes Northern Ireland were reduced to nine men when Gillespie was adjudged to have committed a late challenge on Kyrgiakos on the edge of the Greece penalty area.
Craigan comes close
To their credit Northern Ireland continued to press forward and almost scored a consolation goal on 83 minutes but Stephen James Craigan could only direct his side-footed shot from six metres against the crossbar.