Heartbreak for Greece as Spain snatch win

Greece 1 Spain 2

Greece 1 Spain 2

Dani Guiza headed home a late winner as a second-string Spain side battled back from a goal down in Salzburg to leave deposed European champions Greece without a point in Euro 2008.

Angelos Charisteas had given Greece a half-time lead, but second-half goals from Ruben De la Red and Guiza helped Group D winners Spain extend their unbeaten run to 19 matches ahead of their quarter-final showdown against Italy.

Respective coaches Luis Aragones of Spain and Greece’s Otto Rehhagel rang the changes for the match at the Stadion Salzburg Wals-Siezenheim, which had little riding on it other than match practice for one team and pride for the other.

Aragones, as expected, brought in 10 newcomers to the team that had been unchanged for the victories over Russia and Sweden, with Andres Iniesta the only player to have started all three group games.

For Greece, Rehhagel opted only to bring in four new faces to the side that lost to Russia last time out, and kept faith with retiring goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis, who was making his 90th and last appearance for his country.

With Cesc Fabregas heavily involved, Spain looked the more dangerous of the two sides in the opening stages, but after a few nervous early moments the Greece defence coped fairly comfortably with the group winners’ attacks.

The closest either side came to a goal in the opening 30 minutes was through a spectacular effort from inside the centre circle by Spain’s stand-in captain Xabi Alonso.

The midfielder has famously scored from inside his own half for Liverpool and he almost repeated the feat here, his effort going inches wide of the top-corner with the backpedalling Nikopolidis badly struggling before colliding painfully with the woodwork.

Alonso’s long-range shooting was looking Spain’s best threat at that stage, with the 26-year-old curling another couple of efforts just wide of Nikopolidis’s left-hand post.

Greece’s attacking threat was limited mainly to dead-ball situations in the first half, and it appeared as though there was going to be little to worry Pepe Reina in the Spanish goal as the match drifted towards half-time.

However, that was all to change in the 42nd minute when Greece took the lead against the run of play through Charisteas.

The goal stemmed from a free-kick out on the left touchline, which was curled into the box by Giorgos Karagounis and Charisteas escaped his marker to send a thumping header past Reina.

Spain could not claim to be unaware of the danger posed by Charisteas though, as the big centre-forward also scored the goal when the two nations drew 1-1 during the group of stages of Euro 2004, a tournament Greece would famously go on to win.

Aragones opted against bringing any of his big guns on at the break, and he was almost rewarded for his continued faith in his fringe players when Alonso came agonisingly close to equalising in the 54th minute.

Once again showing his prowess from distance, the skipper unleashed a 30-yard thunderbolt that crashed against the inside of the post before flying across the face of the goal.

Spain did not have to wait much longer to get back on level terms though, with De la Red blasting home his side’s leveller from 15 yards out.

An Alonso chip into the area was nodded back by Dani Guiza and De la Red was on hand to send an unstoppable shot past Nikopolidis, who got his hand to the ball but could do nothing to keep it out.

Spain’s joy very nearly turned to despair three minutes later however as Charisteas broke into the area and skipped past Reina, but he could only hit the outside of the post from a tight angle.

The score was still deadlocked at 1-1 as the game entered the final 20 minutes, but Spain were starting to get back on top and they will have been frustrated that none of Guiza, De la Red or Garcia were able to make the most of decent openings.

Garcia and Guiza had further chances late on as Spain pushed for the goal that would extend their winning streak to nine games, but it looked as though it was not going to come.

However, Guiza – La Liga’s leading scorer last season – had other ideas and with just two minutes left on the clock he got on the end of Garcia’s far-post cross to thump a header past Nikopolidis, giving Spain their second successive last-gasp win following their 2-1 triumph over Sweden.

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