Spanish reserves turn tables on Greece (Lead)

June 19th, 2008 - 7:37 am ICT by IANS  

Salzburg (Austria), June 19 (DPA) Spain’s reserves showed their spirit and quality Wednesday by coming from behind to beat troubled Greece 2-1 in Salzburg. Euro 2004 hero Angelos Charisteas gave Greece the lead, only for Ruben de la Red and Daniel Guiza to turn the tables with second-half goals, their first for Spain.

A third defeat in a row means that Greece bow out as the poorest- ever defending champions in the history of the European Championships.

It was a dismal way for veteran Greek keeper Antonis Nikopolidis to finish his international career, especially because he was partly to blame on Spain’s equalizer.

“I would have preferred if the team achieved a win or a draw at least, especially for the players who are retiring, and in particular Nikopolidis,” said Greece coach Otto Rehhagel.

“The team tried, we had some good moments, like the goal but then as Spain started exerting pressure, we defended too deep, especially for the second goal.”

Spain finish top of Group D with nine points. Russia - who beat Sweden 2-0 in Innsbruck - finish second with six points, Sweden third with three and Greece bottom without a point.

Just like Holland’s Marco van Basten and Luiz Felipe Scolari before him, Spain coach Luis Aragones rested virtually all of his first-teamers, with his mind Sunday’s quarter-final clash against Italy.

This is an advantage because our players were a bit tired, particularly those that played the first two games,” said Aragones.

“Others have done the exact same, like Portugal for example. From the semis to the final there are just 3 days so you have to try and recuperate when you can.”

His best player was Xabi Alonso, who four times came close to scoring with breathtaking long drives.

“We worked hard for our win tonight,” said Alonso at the end.

The Liverpool midfielder added that “Italy will be very complicated rivals, because many times they start poorly but get better as a tournament progresses.”

Alonso almost scored the goal of Euro 2008 in the 23rd minute, but was just wide with an audacious shot from inside his own half.

In the 42nd minute Greece went ahead, against the run of play, when Charisteas - in true 2004 style - headed in a long free-kick from Giorgos Karagounis, with the Spanish defence looking hesitant.

Karagounis and Charisteas made a point of running the length of the pitch to celebrate the goal with Nikopolidis.

But Spain were determined to spoil the retirement party and the tempo increased in the second half.

In the 54th minute Alonso hit the post with another of his long drives. Seven minutes later Cesc Fabregas played a long ball up to Guiza, who headed the ball back for De la Red to make it 1-1 with a fierce half-volley, which a slow-reacting Nikopolis could only get a hand to.

In the 64th minute Charisteas hit the outside of the Spanish post - and that was the end of Greece.

In the 88th minute Guiza won the game for Spain by heading in a perfect Sergio Garcia centre, with Nikopolidis again looking slow and ready to retire.

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