Greece reached the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ on Wednesday with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Ukraine in the return leg of their European Zone play-off. Panathinaikos striker Dimitris Salpingidis netted the only goal of the match sending Greece, the shock 2004 European champions, into their second FIFA World Cup finals after a 16-year absence.
"I'm proud of my players. They put all of their heart and soul into today's match," said Greece coach Otto Rehhagel. "It was really tough to contain Ukraine's attacks throughout the match but we did our best and luckily we managed to do it and achieve the desired result."
Greece and Ukraine, who were deadlocked at 0-0 after the first leg in Athens on Saturday, struggled to impose themselves early on in a match played on the rain-soaked surface of the half-empty, 50,000-seat Donbass Arena.
Ukraine skipper Andrei Shevchenko missed a chance to put his team into the lead in the eighth minute, when he failed to send home a rebound after Greece goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas deflected Alexander Aliev's shot. The Greeks replied with a seven-metre header from Celtic striker Giorgos Samaras, which went just inches over the crossbar from a well-struck Giorgos Karagounis free-kick.
Just after the half-hour mark Salpingidis gave Greece the lead. Racing past Ukraine's defenders on a breakaway, he received a razor-sharp through ball from Samaras and slipped his low shot past past goalkeeper Andrei Pyatov and inside the back post.
After the break, the hosts continued to press under the watchful gaze of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. But the visitors defended well, stifling the Ukrainian attacks and forcing them into fruitless long-range shots. Oleg Gusev missed Ukraine's last chance to level in stoppage time, his six-yard rebound going wide after Tsorvas deflected Yevgeny Seleznov's shot from the edge of the box.
"I don't have any criticism for my players. They gave all they had today but unfortunately it was not enough," said Ukraine coach Alexei Mikhailichenko. "We had several scoring chances but there were too many mistakes and it was the main reason for the defeat."