Greece snatch 1-1 draw at Finland
Greece dominated the first half and led with a powerful long shot by first-timer Nikos Karelis but host Finland equalized through Jarkko Hurme in European Championship qualifying on Saturday.
That 1-1 draw in Helsinki, and a late equalizer by Hungary at Romania, left Northern Ireland alone at the top of Group F after a 2-0 home win against Faroe Islands.
Greece, much improved after a 1-0 home loss against Romania in the opener, will host Northern Ireland on Tuesday.
Finland nearly took the lead in the second minute, but Tim Sparv steered the ball just wide of Alexander Ring’s post.
Greece dominated most of the rest of the first half and took the lead in the 24th when Karelis took a pass from Andreas Samaris and did not hesitate to unleash a curving shot from just outside the area which found the left corner of Finland’s goal. Niki Maenpaa dived but could not stop Karelis from scoring in his senior Greece debut.
Finland started the second half strongly and was rewarded with a 55th-minute equalizer. Substitute Kasper Hamalainen made a neat pass to Hurme, who volleyed past goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.
Both teams searched for a second goal, but created no major chances until the end. Greece coach Claudio Ranieri brought in a fresh attacking trio in the final minutes, to no avail.
“We played well (except for) the first 15 minutes of the second half, when we defended too deep,” Ranieri said. “I took the risk of picking younger players (to start) and both Karelis and (Haris) Mavrias played very well.”
Ranieri was assisted on the bench by veteran Greece player Giorgos Karagounis, who retired after the World Cup.
“I’m not happy with the Greece goal but it was an excellent shot. Overall I have to be satisfied with a point,” Finland coach Mixu Paatelainen said.
Northern Ireland scored its pair against the Faroe Islands inside the first 20 minutes, through Gareth McAuley and Kyle Lafferty. The Faroes’ one big chance to claw back a goal later in the first half was blocked by veteran goalie Roy Carroll, who saved Frodi Benjaminsen’s penalty.
Earlier, Balazs Dzsudzsak scored in the 82nd to earn Hungary a 1-1 equalizer against host Romania in Bucharest, against the run of play. Raul Rusescu opened the scoring at the stroke of halftime.