Jun 19, 2008
Second string Spain too good for Greece
Jun 19, 2008
By Simon Baskett
SALZBURG (Reuters) - A second string Spain side came from a goal down to beat 2004 champions Greece 2-1 in their final game in Group D at the European Championship on Wednesday.
Striker Daniel Guiza headed the winner two minutes from time when he met a cross from Sergio Garcia to hand a third straight defeat to already eliminated Greece.
The Greeks had taken the lead late in the first half through a header from striker Angelos Haristeas but midfielder Ruben de la Red equalised just after the hour.
"It was a tricky first half but we managed to battle through and win the game," said Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso, who was named man of the match. "Now is the time to start thinking about Italy which is going to be the hour of truth.
With Spain resting almost their entire first-choice side ahead of their quarter-final showdown with the Italians on Sunday, and Greece playing for little more than pride, the game lacked the intensity and edge of the previous group clashes.
However, Spain coach Luis Aragones said: "I've got 23 very good players in my squad and in the second half we played some very intelligent, very good football."
Spain had an early chance when De la Red sliced wide and Xabi Alonso almost caught Greece keeper Antonis Nikopolidis out when he launched a long-distance drive from inside his own half.
Alonso shaved the post with two more firm drives, but it was Greece who broke the deadlock and took the lead against the run of play three minutes before halftime.
The unmarked Haristeas outjumped the Spain defence and sent a powerful header spinning past keeper Pepe Reina to score his side's first goal of the tournament after midfielder Giorgios Karagounis had clipped a free kick into the area.
The Greek players ran down the pitch to celebrate with keeper Nikopolidis who had been given the captain's armband in honour of his last match before his international retirement.
Alonso almost scored when he hammered a 25-metre drive against the post early in the second half, but it was De la Red who equalised with his first goal for Spain.
He blasted home after Dani Guiza had headed back a long pass from Cesc Fabregas into his path just after the hour.
Guiza then got on the scoresheet himself with his first goal for his country when he sent a powerful close range header past Nikopolidis to extend Spain's winning run to nine games.
Greece coach Otto Rehhagel, who steered the team to a surprise triumph over hosts Portugal in the final four years ago, refused to blame his side for a poor showing.
"I told my players we must say goodbye in a proper fashion and that's what they did today," he said. "After the game I don't want to put the blame on individual players."
(Reporting by Simon Baskett, editing by Ken Ferris)
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