Northern Ireland shocks Greece 2-0 in qualifier
PIRAEUS, Greece (AP) — Northern Ireland continued its surprise run in Euro 2016 qualifying on Tuesday by beating Greece 2-0 for its third straight win in Group F.
Jamie Ward fired in a corner kick taken by Oliver Norwood in the ninth minute, with the ball crossing the line after a slight deflection off Greece defender Loukas Vyntra.
Kyle Lafferty hit the post with a shot in the first half, but made it 2-0 after a solo run six minutes into the second half at Karaiskaki Stadium. He has now scored in all three of his country’s group matches.
Northern Ireland has never qualified for the European Championship and has missed all the World Cups since 1986. But the well-organized side on Tuesday was rarely threatened by the Greeks, who were European champions in 2004 and reached the last 16 at the World Cup in Brazil.
“Every single player believes were we can qualify for the Euros and we’ve sent out a massive statement tonight,” Lafferty said.
“We’re sitting on top of the group tonight with nine points ... Obviously to score in all three games, I’m delighted.”
The injury-plagued Greeks had their best chance in the first half with Nikos Karelis, who misplaced his lob, and failed to beat former Olympiakos goalkeeper Roy Carroll.
Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill said his plan to rely on set pieces and counterattacks paid off, describing every player as “magnificent” but singling out Lafferty.
“Kyle has all the attributes. Not just his physical size but his technique, and his pace and he’s bringing it all together at the minute, and when he does that international class defenders, just can’t handle him.”
It was all away wins in Group F on Tuesday: Hungary won 1-0 in the Faeroe Islands thanks to a first-half goal from Adam Szalai, while Bogdan Stancu struck twice as Romania beat Finland 2-0 in Helsinki and moved his team into second place with seven points.
Greece coach Claudio Ranieri, with just a point after two home defeats, said he still had problems integrating young players.
“Everyone played their best but not like a team,” the Italian said. “We conceded two stupid goals, that’s the problem ... Now we’ll have to fight.”
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