BECKS STUNS GREEKS WITH LAST GASP STRIKE
By Nic Evans
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Teddy Sheringham came off the bench to score with his first touch from a Beckham free kick, but schoolboy defending almost contrived to give Greece a deserved win, although on this occasion a draw did not see England fail to qualify as the draw did in the 1983 European Championship qualifying tie.
The Greeks took the lead twice and showed a performance that bore no comparison to their 5-1 loss to Finland last month, but with Germany failing to convert numerous chances and Beckham's last minute heroics on his home ground, England managed to avoid a tricky qualifying play-off against Ukraine.
Despite a bright start by England, with Paul Scholes almost forcing his way though in the first minute, it was Greece that enjoyed most of the possession.
A lack of inception and dynamism in the home side gave the Greeks more confidence and as the half went on they began to dominate, aided by a poor England performance.
The only attacking showing from England came from set pieces, David Beckham getting his first opportunity in the seventh minute when he made Antonis Nikopolidis make a save, although in truth it was a simple one to make.
German coach Otto Rehhagel had obviously watched the video of the England victory against his home country, with Ashley Cole isolated on the left and the Greeks hunting in packs, denying space in the centre and right.
A complete lack of creativity stifled the Liverpool duo of Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey up front.
Referee Dick Jol of the Netherlands attempted to stamp his authority on the game early, although Nikos Dabizas's two-footed tackle on Steven Gerrard was allowed to go unpunished, Scholes's similar challenge resulted in the first booking in the tenth minute.
Panagiotis Fissas almost got onto the end of the resulting free kick and England did not learn from their mistake as Giorgias Karagounis got time to fire in a shot that Martyn saved.
The Greeks had captain Theo Zagorakis booked for dissent but Demis Nikolaidis's 17th minute effort flew just over the bar as they pressed forward and the same player almost opened the scoring moments later when uncertainty in the English defence gave him space on the edge of the area and his shot on the turn flew just over the bar.
As England began to find themselves muscled out of the game, so uncertainty grew and Martyn was lucky to escape when a long range effort from Zagorakis bounced off him, but he recovered well to collect at the second attempt.
Eventually Greece did take advantage of their hosts as Christos Patsatzoglou beat Ashley Cole down the left, although the Arsenal unnecessarily dived in allowing the wing back to go on and cross, Rio Ferdinand's clearance was weak and Charisteas blasted the ball from the edge of the area past a diving Martyn.
It was Greece's first goal in England and stunned the Old Trafford crowd.
Towards the end of the half a clumsy foul by Konstantinidis on Beckham could have resulted in a penalty, whilst Heskey's low cross was almost put into his own net by the same player, but in truth England hardly merited an equaliser.
The second period saw England come out with renewed vigour and within the first three minutes, could have got back on level terms with four separate chances. The introduction of Andy Cole for Nick Barmby saw Heskey revert to a left wing role and seemed to increase the attacking options of the side.
Firstly a Beckham free kick flew wide after a great turn from Fowler, then Cole should have scored after Gerrard played him in with a superb chip. With Nikopolidis going down early the Manchester United man appeared to have the whole goal to aim for, but he contrived to blast the ball against the keeper's legs.
However, England's defensive frailties were highlighted again when Karagounis managed to break through virtually unchallenged before slanting a shot across Martyn who did well to save down low.
Desperately searching for an equaliser, England huffed and puffed, with Scholes almost getting on the end of Gerrard's exquisite chip but did not have enough power at the end to beat Nikopolidis.
Indeed Greece should have put the game beyond doubt when Karagounis again ran clean through, although a player was in an offside position, and with just Martyn to beat took far too long to decide what to do and saw his shot hit the Leeds keeper's knee.
The ball was picked up by Nikolaidis but good tracking back saved England.
This lucky escape prompted coach Sven Goran Eriksson decide to send on Sheringham for Fowler and within seconds the wily veteran had England back into the game as he flicked home Beckham's free kick.
Yet within sixty seconds England were once again behind as Ashley Cole was penalised for a rash challenge and from the free kick terrible marking by Ferdinand combined with Gary Neville playing Nikolaidis onside gave the Greek striker the chance from ten yards out and he finished clinically into the bottom hand corner, to shock the home crowd into silence.
Beckham went close with another free kick, which went into the side netting and Steve McManaman was sent on for Ashley Cole, but England did not look likely, nor seemed to deserve an equaliser.
Yet with Germany failing to finish the Finns off and somehow England getting four minutes injury time, the scene was set for an exciting ending to the game.
Sheringham won a dubious free kick 30 yards out and Beckham stepped up to curl an unstoppable shot into the top corner and send England into the World Cup finals.
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