Greece wrestled back control of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group F from Croatia as goals from Giorgos Samaras and Fanis Gekas gave them a precious win against Slaven Bilić's team in Athens.
After a low-key first half, Samaras volleyed home with aplomb and Gekas then headed in a corner from Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis to settle a tense encounter. The result lifted the hosts two points clear of Croatia and leaves them in the driving seat heading into their final game against Georgia in Tbilisi on Tuesday, when they will simply need to avoid defeat to ensure Croatia cannot overtake them by beating Latvia.
The two teams went into the match separated by a single point, which ensured a cautious and nervy opening with little fluidity shown by either side amid a flurry of fouls. Greece, who are undefeated in 15 matches since Fernando Santos replaced Otto Rehhagel after the 2010 FIFA World Cup, were strangely subdued, producing no more than a long-range Karagounis shot which sailed high over the crossbar and an Avraam Papadopoulos header in a quiet opening half.
Gekas was leading the attack after a year in the wilderness following a self-imposed exile, and he was presented with a great chance to open the scoring after the break, only to head straight at Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa. That sparked Croatia into life and they began to threaten the Greece defence with a series of raids down the left flank from Ivan Strinić.
Greece responded in kind by winning their first two corners of the match, and the deadlock was finally broken from the second in the 71st minute when Samaras scored with a sweet left-footed volley, Croatia having failed to clear their lines following Karagounis's set piece. The Greece skipper was the architect of his team's second too as Gekas planted a header into the top corner eight minutes later from another corner to clinch the victory.