(AFP) – Georgios Samaras’s dramatic injury-time penalty took Greece into the World Cup last 16 for the first time Tuesday as they grabbed a 2-1 win which sent Ivory Coast crashing out.
Samaras, brought down by Giovanni Sio in the 91st minute, bravely stepped up to convert past a flailing Boubacar Barry before being mobbed by his team-mates.
It proved the last act of a thrilling Group C finale which Greece had led following Andreas Samaris’s strike near half-time, before Wilfried Bony equalised.
The Swansea City striker’s goal looked enough to take Ivory Coast through but Samaras’s penalty lifted Greece from bottom place to second, thanks also to Colombia’s 4-1 win over Japan.
Samaras’s goal brought a cruel end to the tournament for Ivory Coast’s Yaya and Kolo Toure, who were playing despite the death of their brother from cancer last week.
The result also convinced Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi that his adventure with the ‘Elephants’ was at an end.
“My contract comes to an end at this World Cup and there will be no epilogue and you can understand well as to why,” said the 42-year-old Frenchman.
“It is logical as we did not do well at last year’s Africa Cup of Nations or at the World Cup finals.”
His Greece counterpart Fernando Santos, who announced before the finals he would not be seeking to renew his contract which finishes at the end of this month, was not happy at the suggestion that his side only won through their trademark solid defending.
“I can only laugh at that, it is a joke,” said the 59-year-old Portuguese, who guided the Greeks to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals.
“In football one attacks and one defends. We know how to defend well but we are also good on the counter-attack.
“What I take most pleasure in is that this win will bring great joy to the Greek people.”
Veteran striker Didier Drogba took over captaincy duties from Yaya Toure as he made his first start of the World Cup.
And they combined for the Ivory Coast’s first dangerous moment but the Manchester City man’s pass into the box was too heavy for the 36-year-old Galatasary striker’s ageing legs to run on to.
Greece were forced into early changes when goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis came off with a back problem and midfielder Samaris replaced Panagiotis Kone, who went down holding his hamstring.
Ivory Coast were having trouble breaking down the compact Greeks and the Euro 2004 champions fired a warning when they quickly broke forward and Jose Holebas rattled the crossbar.
Greece’s opener, three minutes before half-time, stemmed from a mix-up when Samaras pounced on a loose pass by Cheick Tiote and fed Samaris who steadied himself and finished coolly.
Samaris was then on hand at the other end to deny Yaya Toure after he evaded two challenges and galloped into the Greek box, only to see his shot blocked by the midfielder.
The Greek defending was outstanding and Konstantinos Manoloas slid in sharply to deny Salomon Kalou as he prepared to shoot.
Barry had to get everything behind a fierce drive from Dimitrios Salpingidis as Greece continued to threaten.
Veteran Georgios Karagounis, making his 139th international appearance, was inches from one of the goals of the tournament when his sensational long-range shot smashed off the crossbar, leaving the Fulham midfielder shaking his head.
With 16 minutes left, a Greek victory looked a formality but Bony, who came on for Tiote just after the hour-mark, had other ideas.
The Swansea City striker received a cute sideways pass in the box from Gervinho and he made no mistake with his first-time finish past Panagiotis Glyko.
The Greeks were going out and with time running short, Vasileios Torosidis tried his luck with a speculative shot from a tight angle which slammed off the near post.
Salpingidis’s cross ran across the face of goal as Greece pressed. And they finally got their reward when Sio, brought on just minutes earlier for Gervinho, upended Samaras.