Mitroglou leads Greece to WCup, holds Romania 1-1
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Greece sealed its place at next year’s World Cup after settling for a 1-1 draw against Romania in the playoffs on Tuesday to advance 4-2 on aggregate and reach its fifth major tournament in a decade.
Kostas Mitroglou, who had scored twice in Greece’s 3-1 victory last Friday in Piraeus, gave his side the lead in the 23rd minute. Mitroglou beat Romania’s offside trap to control a cross from Giorgos Karagounis and steer the ball past goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.
Mitroglou, dubbed the “gunslinger” in the Greek news media, celebrated the goal by grabbing the corner flag and pretending to use it as a machine gun.
Romania lost concentration after conceding, but came back into the game in the 55th minute when a botched Greece clearance led to an own goal by Vassilis Torosidis.
Goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis kept the score level by stopping a late effort on target by Romania’s Cristian Tanase as Greece earned a second straight qualification for the World Cup, and its fifth major tournament since winning the European Championship in 2004.
Moments after the final whistle at Bucharest’s National Arena, Greece players lifted coach Fernando Santos and heaved him into the air to cheers from 2,000 traveling fans.
“There are three things: First I say ‘thank you, and thank God,’” the Portuguese coach said, speaking Greek in public for the first time since taking over the national team three years ago.
“Second, I congratulate my players for two fantastic games, and third this victory is for the Greek people. Thank you very much, we are going to Brazil.”
Santos, close to tears as he spoke, said he hoped that qualification would lift the country’s spirits as it struggles to overcome its financial crisis.
“The Greeks have been so warm to me, so welcoming. It feels great to give them some joy and hope that things will get better,” he said.
“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 at times hurled firecrackers onto the pitch — one hitting defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos. But they applauded the Greek team after the match.
Some 50,000 Romania fans were buoyed by the return of captain Vlad Chirches, who played with a fractured nose and a protective face mask. Crowd favorite Alex Maxim also returned.
But the hosts rarely threatened, and Tuesday’s result was a bitter loss for the 1994 World Cup quarterfinalists, who will have been absent from the event for 16 years.
Romania coach Victor Piturca refused to say whether he would resign from his third spell in the job.
“We managed a good game tonight, but we couldn’t make up the two goals we needed,” said the 57-year-old manager, nicknamed “Satan” for his austere appearance. “Our defense was weak and we tried to attack. I congratulate the Greek team. They were the better team.”
AP Television producer Nick Dumitrache in Bucharest contributed to this report.