BUCHAREST, Romania – It wasn’t a bailout but the Greek national soccer team – called football around the world outside the United States – provided some good news during a crushing economic crisis, tying Romania 1-1 Nov. 19 in a playoff leg that was good enough for the team to advance to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Greece had easily won the first leg on Nov. 15 in Piraeus, 3-1, and the final aggregate was 4-2. Romania had little chance really because it needed to turn around on Greece by two goals at home but it never came close. For the first time, Greece has made back-to-back World Cups, and will be making its third appearance ever.
Kostas Mitroglou, who scored twice in first game and narrowly missed a third which would have given him a hat trick, gave Greece the lead in the 23rd minute, beating Romania’s offside trap to control a cross from Giorgos Karagounis and steer the ball past goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.
Romania came back into the game in the 55th minute when a botched Greece clearance led to an own goal by Vassilis Torosidis.
Moments after the final whistle at Bucharest’s National Arena Greece players lifted coach Fernando Santos and heaved him into the area to cheers from 2,000 traveling fans.
“I thank God and I thank the players who were fantastic. We are going to Brazil and that’s amazing,” the Portuguese coach said, publicly speaking Greek for the first time since taking over the national team three years ago.
He added, in Portuguese: “I think it is a great thing for Greece that we are going to our second consecutive World Cup … And certainly this is a huge moment for me, personally.”
Romanian fans pointed lasers at players and hurled firecrackers onto the pitch at stages — one hitting defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos — but applauded the Greek team after the match.
The group draw of the final phase of the competition will be held on Dec. 6, 2013 in Bahia when Greece will find if it gets lucky in the pairings or is placed in with world powerhouses. Greece had a respectable showing in 2010 in South Africa after a disastrous appearance in Boston in 1994 when it was shut out in every game and went home in disgrace after scoring no goals and giving up 10 for the tournament’s worst showing.
Greece won its series with Romania by an aggregate 4-2 score, giving up a goal in the first game on a header off a free kick and in the second on an own goal as its defense proved it’s one of the most formidable in the world.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)