Greece were denied a UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-off place in heartbreaking fashion despite eliminating Poland with an impressive win.
At kick-off, Greece were fourth in Group 7 but knew victory by 3-1 or better would give them top spot if Sweden drew with Turkey. Greece duly won with two late goals, and Turkey came back from 3-1 to 3-3 in Halmstad – only for Sweden to strike an added-time winner.
The opening goal arrived on 12 minutes when Tassos Lagos crossed and Charis Mavrias chased a seemingly lost ball to turn it into the path of the incoming Nikos Karelis, who unleashed a powerful left-footed shot past Jakub Szumski. Soon after Michał Żyro crossed from the left and Kacper Przybyłko, unmarked in front of Stefanos Kapino, put the ball past him with the right foot to level.
Both sides had chances but it was looking good for Poland as, even though Sweden were winning, Marcin Dorna's side – being watched by Zbigniew Boniek in Katerini – were set to top the group on head-to-head record. But on 85 minutes Giannis Gianniotas was introduced by Greece coach Kostas Tsanas and was to turn the game after Przybyłko had missed what seemed a certain goal.
Three minutes from time, Gianniotas was brought down by Poland captain Marcin Kamiński and converted the penalty himself. The Greece bench now knew Turkey had equalised in Sweden and urged their team forward to get the vital third goal and, after Apostolos Vellios had headed wide and Nikos Karelis hit the crossbar, Gianniotas controlled a Kostas Stafylidis cross and beat Szumski from eight metres out. At the final whistle Greece started to celebrate wildly for 30 seconds until their mood changed dramatically when Tsanas informed them of Sweden's winner.
Giannis Gianniotas, Greece forward
It was an amazing game and we deserved to go through. This experience will make us tougher; it was a lesson of how much some goals conceded in earlier matches can matter in this competition. We were in heaven for one minute and then went straight to hell. But that's football and we have to accept it.
Kostas Tsanas, Greece coach
Football is full of emotions. I am very happy with my players' performance today, they gave their all, had passion and determination and achieved what they set out to do: a win by two goals. We were depending however on the result of the Sweden-Turkey game and that didn't go our way.
Moments like these, matches like these, turn boys into men. I am very proud to be their coach. I know that Claudio Ranieri [Greece senior coach], who attended the match today, will take note of these boys.