Greece top World Cup Qualifying Group Two
Greece maintained their status as the leading team in World Cup Qualifying Group Two with a determined victory over Israel at the Pagkritio stadium in Crete. Dimitris Salpigidis' blistering first-half strike put Otto Rehhagel's side ahead before a defensive lapse allowed Elyaniv Barda to level for the Israelis just before the hour mark. But Celtic striker Georgios Samaras came off the bench to net a match-winning penalty after Vasilis Torosidis had been fouled by Baram Kayal to clinch all three points and end a successful four days for the Greeks, who previously held the Israelis to a 1-1 draw in Tel Aviv on Saturday. With away matches against Switzerland and Moldova next on the Greeks' agenda, it was important the former European Champions took maximum points, and they remain ahead of Switzerland on goal difference with both sides now on 13 points following Switzerland's 2-0 win over Moldova. Israel are now four points adrift in third spot. The visitors, who left the half-fit Yossi Benayoun on the bench, made an energetic start, pressing the Greek defence with slick passing and movement. However, their enthusiasm faded and it was Greece who passed up a golden chance to score after 11 minutes when defender Sotiris Kyrgiakos blazed over from 12 yards out. The hosts then gained a foothold and began to create chances. Fanis Gekas, scorer of Greece's goal in the 1-1 draw between the two teams four days ago, headed over from a Giorgos Karagounis cross after 27 minutes while strike-partner Salpigidis also saw a shot blocked two minutes later. The Euro 2004 winners continued to bomb forward and were rewarded after 32 minutes through the lively Salpigidis. The Panathinaikos man picked up Tal Ben-Haim's poorly headed clearance from a Karagounis corner on the edge of the penalty area and sent a fierce, low drive through a crowd of bodies and into the bottom left corner of Israel goalkeeper Dudu Aouate's goal. The home side continued to look comfortable after the goal with Israel failing to register a single shot on target as the opening 45 minutes came to a close. Israel coach Dror Kashtan threw Benayoun into the fray at half-time for the ineffective Ben Sahar. The Liverpool man was in the thick of the action straight away, a mazy run on the edge of the Greece penalty area catching the eye before the ball was hacked away by Avraam Papadopoulos. Greece seemed content to sit back and relax and they were punished for a lapse in concentration in the 59th minute. The defence failed to clear a hopeful Israeli free-kick and the ball landed at the feet of substitute Barda 15 yards out. The midfielder wasted no time in crashing home his shot past Kostas Chalkias. The home side responded almost immediately, however, Torosidis' strong run only ended by a desperate lunge from Kayal, which gave Portuguese referee Olegario Bencerensa no option but to point to the spot. Enter Samaras, who had only come on the field three minutes earlier as a replacement for Gekas, to send Aouate the wrong way and slot home the spot-kick into the bottom left corner. Rehhagel then opted for caution, bringing on defensive midfielders Christos Patsatzoglou and Angelos Basinas for Karagounis and Charisteas respectively as the hosts saw out the remainder of the game to claim the win.