FORTALEZA – Gp C: Greece 2, Ivory Coast 1
—- Greece qualified for the last 16 of a World Cup for the first time with a dramatic victory when Celtic’s Georgios Samaras converted a controversial stoppage-time penalty to seal the win after he was judged to have been fouled by Giovanni Sio.
Greece had taken a first-half lead when substitute Andreas Samaris scored after Cheick Tiote’s defensive mistake but Ivory Coast then looked like advancing after Wilfried Bony equalised from Gervinho’s pass.
Soon after their elimination from the tournament was confirmed, Ivory Coast’s coach Sabri Lamouchi resigned from his position.
Greece face Costa Rica in the second round on Sunday in Recife, while the Ivorians have now gone out in the group phase in each of the last three World Cups.
They began the day second and, with Colombia beating Japan 4-1 in the other Group C match, only needed a point to become the first African side to qualify for the second phase in this year’s competition.
However, Greece, who offered little as an attacking threat in the second half, were given an opportunity to grab the winner when referee Christian Lescano pointed to the spot, despite strong Ivorian protests.
They were unhappy that Samaras, who kicked the turf, had fallen to the ground despite minimal contact from Sio but he kept his cool to shoot past Ivorian goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
Greece started the day bottom of their group, and their hopes of qualifying took a further setback when they had to make two substitutions inside the first 24 minutes, including goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, who had to be replaced after a back injury.
However, they created the best first-half opportunities with Samaras leading a quick-attack and releasing Jose Holebas, whose shot from the edge of the penalty area rebounded off the crossbar.
Fernando Santos’s Greece team then went ahead with their first goal of the 2014 tournament and only their third in three World Cup tournaments.
Newcastle midfielder Tiote carelessly lost the ball to Samaris and he played a one-two with Samaras before lifting the ball over Ivory Coast goalkeeper Barry.
After the break, despite the African side seeing more of the possession, Karagounis nearly made it 2-0 to Greece with a long-range effort that also hit the crossbar.
But Ivory Coast, who had seen Salomon Kalou and Wilfried Bony shoot wastefully wide earlier in the second half, deservedly equalised with a quick counter-attack as ex-Arsenal winger Gervinho set up Bony.
The Swansea striker had scored in their 2-1 win against Japan on Sunday and calmly finished past substitute goalkeeper Panagiotis Glykos.
That goal sparked wild Ivory Coast celebrations, but their joy turned to despair with Samaras’s 93rd-minute penalty.
Lamouchi said: “My contract comes to an end at this World Cup and there will be no epilogue. It is logical as we did not do well at last year’s Africa Cup of Nations or at the World Cup finals.
“The Ivory Coast is a great football nation. And this was a cruel game. After so much hard work and so much sacrifice, all of us and everyone in the Ivory Coast is very sad.”
Greek coach Santos said: “We found balance tonight. We are not the worst team when we lose or the best when we win.
“To everyone in Greece I say: Go out into the street and celebrate.”
Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis: “We came here to advance from the group stage. We’ve never done it before, and we did in a great way.
“The goal should have come earlier. So God helped us in the end and we all thank him. We prevailed against the odds. We had passion and we had fight.”
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