Greece defeats Israel in Euro qualifier
Sotorios Ninis scored a 60th-minute winner to give Group F leader Greece a 1-0 victory over Israel in a Euro 2012 qualifier on Friday.
The Greeks controlled the pace of the game in a hard-fought encounter at Tel Aviv's Bloomfield Stadium and scored when Panathinaikos midfielder Ninis went past several defenders before beating the goalkeeper with a low, powerful strike.
The win ensures Greece remains top of Group F, with 17 points from seven games for the 2004 European champions, while damaging Israel's chances of qualifying for its first major international tournament since the 1970 World Cup.
Israel will travel to Croatia for its penultimate qualifying game on Tuesday in Zagreb. After playing eight games, Israel is currently level on 13 points with second-place Croatia, which has played six. Croatia plays Malta later on Friday.
Israel coach Luis Fernandez said he was proud of his players despite the defeat.
''I wanted to make all the fans happy with a win,'' he said. ''We needed to take our chances and we didn't.''
Midfielder Lior Refaelov had the first chance of the game for Israel in the sixth minute but his shot on the left side of the penalty area was knocked away for a corner by the Greece defense.
Despite pushing forward, Greece was held in check by the Israel defense and reduced to long range attempts, with Georgios Samaras' 17th minute effort from some 25 meters out going well wide.
Dimitris Salpigidis finally forced a save from Israel keeper Dudu Aouate with a weak volley from inside the six-yard box midway through the first half, but real chances were few and far between.
Israel cranked up the pressure at the start of the second half, winning a succession of corners after Itay Shechter's header was saved by Greece goalkeeper Michail Safikis.
Fernandez made a double substitution 10 minutes into the second half, with strikers Tomer Hemed and Omer Damari coming on for Shechter and Eran Zehavi. It nearly paid off when Hemed rose to head a floating Yossi Benayoun cross only to see it fly wide.
Three minutes, later the Greeks took the lead after Beram Kayal lost possession and Ninis took the ball past the Israeli defense before placing it beyond the reach of Aouate.
''We expected the offensive pressure from Israel but we knew we had a very good team too. But we knew where we could strike at their defensive line,'' Greece coach Fernando Manuel Santos said. ''This victory is really important for us but it will be for nothing if we can't manage to qualify.''
Israel: Dudu Aouate, Yual Shpungin, Tal Ben Haim, Rami Gershon, Omri Ben Harush, Almog Cohen (61'' Bibras natcho), Beram Kayal, Eran Zehavi (55'' Tomer Hemed), Lior Rafaelov, Yossi Benayoun, Itay Shechter (55'' Omer Damari).
Greece: Michail Sifakis, Ionnis Zaradoukas, Avraam Papadopolous, Kyriakos Papadopolous, Vassilios Torosidis, Pantelis Kafes (42'' Grigoris Makos), Konstantinos Katsouranis, Sotirios Ninis (78'' Ioannis Fetfatzidis), Georgios Karagousins, Dimitrios Salpigidis (85'' Iaonnis Maniatits), Georgios Samaras.