Well, well, well. Just when you thought Greece were going to crawl away from this tournament with boredom, they went and did a silly old thing like this. Providing Colombia beat Japan (which they did, comprehensively), Fernando Santos' men knew victory over Ivory Coast would be enough to send them through.
They left it late – until stoppage time – but a foul from substitute Giovanni Sio on Georgios Samaras gave the former Manchester City man the chance to net his first Greek goal since Euro 2012. Under pressure, he netted to send Ivory Coast home at the group stage for the third consecutive World Cup.
Typically, the Greeks started slowly. In the first half hour they'd been out-passed by their African opponents, while 49 of their 60 completed passes had been in the defensive or middle third. At this point they simply weren't interested in making the game their own.
But then came the opener, via substitute Andreas Samaris. (After James Rodriguez netted Colombia's fourth against Japan, this World Cup has now seen a record 24 net-ripplers from men off the bench – and we're not even past the group stage.) Greece were two men down to injury inside 24 minutes, including goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, but Cheick Tiote's poor pass gifted Samaris a quick one-two with Samaras, followed by the finish.
By half-time it had become apparent that both sides were willing to go direct when necessary. Neither, however, had any luck with their attempts to unsettle one another's somewhat suspect central-defensive strongholds.
As Ivory Coast hunted the equaliser that would have taken them through, Yaya Toure was demonstrating some of the proactivity that earned him such high praise last season. He completed 5 of 6 dribbles in good positions on the edge of the box, but was more reluctant to shoot than usual. When he did get his shots away, they were blocked.
Meanwhile, Didier Drogba was struggling up front on his own. The former Chelsea powerhouse was receiving passes deep (and infrequently), failed to get a shot away in the game and struggled in the air: at full-time he'd won only half of his 8 aerial duels. At the other end, Samaras won 6 of his 8 (and also drew 6 fouls for his team).
As the game wore on, Greece were forced to defend much more frequently. In the first half they'd created little (4 shots) while spreading defensive work around their own half, but within 15 minutes of the restart had been forced to concentrate on halting the Ivory Coast charge in and around their own penalty area.
With that, though, opportunities on the counter became far easier to come by. Indeed, in this short period they'd registered 7 attempts at goal (the same as their opponents had managed all game) and hit the crossbar via Georgios Karagounis' long-range piledriver.
But then the Greeks were undone in the same way. Sabri Lamouchi's Elephants sparked a quick counter from inside their own half, with Salomon Kalou feeding Gervinho beautifully before the former Arsenal man played in substitute Wilfried Bony for the leveller.
Undeterred, Greece pushed on for the goal that would turn Group C on its head. They camped in the Ivory Coast half for the best part of 15 minutes, while their opponents looked to spark counter-attacks via their left-side combination of Arthur Boka and Gervinho.
Try as they might, though, it looked like the game was up for the Europeans as the clock ticked past 90 minutes; in fairness they'd only netted once in 270 minutes up to this point. But then came the moment. Another substitute, Ivory Coast's Giovanni Sio, bundled over Samaras inside the box and that was that. In his seven-minute cameo he gave away as many fouls as he made passes (2). What will the Basel man learn from this? Well, he's got four years to think about it...
Facts and figures
- Greece have qualified for the knockout stage for the first time in their World Cup history.
- Andreas Samaris netted Greece’s first World Cup goal in 331 minutes of action.
- He was the third Greek to score at the World Cup and the first as a substitute.
- It is only the second World Cup game Greece have scored in, in 9 attempts.
- Gervinho has been involved in each of the last 3 World Cup goals scored by Ivory Coast (scoring 2, assisting 1).
- 9 of Ivory Coast’s 13 goals at the World Cup have been scored after the 60th minute of games.
- It was only Greece’s second win in their last 9 games at World Cup (D1 L6).
- Greece’s Panagiotis Glykos was the first goalkeeper in this World Cup to be brought on from the bench. Colombia's 43-year-old Faryd Mondragon was brought on later in the night.
- It is the only the second time in 9 games that both teams have scored in a World Cup game featuring Greece.
- Georgios Samaras has ended his goalscoring drought of 1478 minutes with Greece. It was his first shot on target at the tournament in 270 minutes of action.
- Greece's 7 wins at major tournaments (World Cups and Euros): 1-0 (4 times) and 2-1 (3 times).