Greece's hopes of reaching the 2010 FIFA World Cup South AfricaTM were dented as they were held to a draw by Moldova, after a disjointed display at the Zimbru stadium in Chisinau.
Otto Rehhagel's side, displaced by Switzerland at the Group 2 summit following a 2-0 loss in Basel on Saturday, overcame early nerves to take a first-half lead through Theofanis Gekas after 33 minutes. But Greece suffered a late blow when Valerui Andronic levelled in the first minute of added time.
The result means the Swiss, who drew 2-2 with Latvia, lead the standings on 17 points and are now favourites to take the automatic qualification spot with their remaining two games at Luxembourg and at home to Israel. Greece lie three points adrift and level on 14 points with Latvia, who they next face in Athens on 10 October in a match which will likely decide which of the two sides claim the play-off spot.
Thunderous drums and jeers provided a challenging atmosphere for Greece, and the opening exchanges were characterised by nervous play, with the Moldovans chasing every lost cause. The visitors, with midfield talisman Giorgos Karagounis back from injury, created the first opening after 12 minutes with Angelos Charisteas sending over an inviting cross for Gekas, but the Greece striker headed straight at home goalkeeper Stanislav Namasco.
Charisteas then missed a golden chance to put Greece ahead when he scuffed his shot wide. Greece persevered, though, and Gekas struck a post on the half-hour mark before the breakthrough came three minutes later.
Namasco did well to parry Giorgos Samaras' initial cross, but Nikos Spiropoulos blasted a follow-up shot on goal which Gekas diverted past Namasco. Moldova responded with Denis Calincov's shot which sailed just wide of the right post, but it was the visitors who looked most likely to add to their lead.
Karagounis fired a free-kick inches wide and almost created another goal as his dangerous free-kick was turned goalwards by Sotitis Kyrgiakos. The Liverpool defender was thwarted by Namasco, however.
Greece suffered a scare on 74 minutes when Valerii Catinsus headed against the right post, and it proved a sign of things to come when Andronic evaded the lacklustre marking by substitute Avraam Papadopoulos and volleyed home Victor Bulat's lobbed pass.