Charisteas makes Spain pay for wasted chances

Greece 1 Spain 1
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The Independent Online

As Greece's players danced in a line before their fans like latterday Tiller Girls, Spain trudged away from a game they looked eminently capable of winning. They now face an Iberian "derby" with Portugal on Sunday, a contest in which a place in the quarter-finals, as well as national pride, will be at stake.

As Greece's players danced in a line before their fans like latterday Tiller Girls, Spain trudged away from a game they looked eminently capable of winning. They now face an Iberian "derby" with Portugal on Sunday, a contest in which a place in the quarter-finals, as well as national pride, will be at stake.

Spain had deservedly led through Fernando Morientes' 23rd goal in 35 internationals. The top scorer in last season's Champions' League finished ruthlessly midway through the first half.

Greece, however, no longer attend finals to make up the numbers. After surviving an astonishing miss by Raul, a resilient performance after the interval was rewarded by an opportunist strike from Angelos Charisteas. A victory for either country in their final group game would guarantee progress to the quarter-finals.

Otto Rehhagel's team complete their Group A schedule against Russia. Their confidence will be high, just as it was going into yesterday's encounter. They had beaten Spain away in the qualifying group and arrived at this most British of Portuguese venues having conceded just one goal in seven competitive fixtures, to the host nation last Saturday.

Spain doubled that total after 28 minutes during which they had looked the more assured side. Greece were already struggling to cope with the interplay between Morientes and Raul, not to the mention the sinewy surges of Joseba Etxeberria and Vicente along the flanks, and it was the former Real Madrid striking partners who combined to make the breakthrough.

They received unwitting assistance from Mihalis Kapsis, who emulated Portugal's Paulo Ferreira against Greece in passing straight to an opponent in close proximity to goal. The error proved equally expensive: the recipient, Raul, back-heeled the ball to Morientes, who veered past Traianos Dellas before burying a low drive with his right foot past Antonios Nikopolidis.

Raul was so excited that he ran to retrieve the ball from the rigging and fly-kicked it into the massed ranks of Spain's supporters. Not since Roy Race was in his 30-year pomp for Melchester Rovers can so much red and yellow have been waved so triumphantly, and Raul himself should have sparked a fresh explosion of colour nine minutes after half-time.

Joaquin, making an instant impact as a substitute, delivered the perfect cross to the far post where Spain's captain and all-time leading scorer waited in regal isolation. In what was arguably the miss of the tournament, Raul headed over, demonstrating why he has scored only five goals this year.

Greece were soon to put his wastefulness into sharp relief. With 24 minutes remaining, the substitute Vassilios Tsiartas swung in a deep cross from the right. The ball reached Charisteas, whose low shot went through Iker Casillas' legs before nestling in the net.

The previously thunderous renditions of the old British holiday-makers' anthem, "Y Viva España", gave way to a more anxious atmosphere. Joaquin, with his twisting runs, and Valeron, from a goalbound volley that struck the body of Costas Katsouranis, did their best to restore the momentum to Spain.

But Greece, driven on by the former Leicester player Theo Zagorakis, defended resolutely to give themselves a fighting chance of reaching the second phase for the first time. Spain, one of the serial under-achievers of European football, face a fretful few days before their fate is decided.

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