Late rally puts 2004 champ Greece into Euro 2012
Greece reached its third straight European Championship on Tuesday after substitute Giorgos Fotakis and veteran Angelos Charisteas scored late goals to secure a 2-1 win over Georgia in their final qualifier.
Fotakis blasted an equalizer past Georgia goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili from outside the area in the 79th minute and Charisteas added the winner six minutes later.
The 2004 champions won Group F ahead with 24 points, two better than Croatia which beat Latvia 2-0 to secure at least a spot in next month's playoff. A draw would have been enough to put Greece through to next year's tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
Greece ensured its place despite David Targamadze putting the Georgians ahead after 19 minutes at the Mikheil Meskhi stadium. The Georgia striker's pinpoint free kick bounced past Greek goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas into goal.
The Greeks, missing five key players through injury and suspensions, lacked imagination and were unable to dent Georgia's defense with defender Nikos Spyropoulos clearing off the line in the 58th.
''We nearly saw 18 months of hard work slip away so it was a big deal for us to come back and win,'' Greece midfielder Kostas Katsouranis said.
The game turned in Greece's favor when the hosts lost Targamadze to injury in the second half. Coach Temuri Ketsbaia had already made all three substitutions to leave his team struggling with 10 men for the last 20 minutes.
''It was a strange game, and luck was on our side,'' said Greece coach Fernando Santos, whose unbeaten run since taking over after last year's World Cup reached 16 games. ''But overall, I think we deserved to qualify.''
Georgia coach Temuri Ketsbaia believed his team would have come at least come away with points if Targamadze hadn't exited.
''We should have got something more out of this game,'' Ketsbaia said. ''It's disappointing for us, but Greece deserved to qualify. They beat Croatia, who were the favorites, so they didn't win the group by luck.''
Georgia: Nukri Revishvili, Shota Grigalashvili (Aleksander Iashvili, 51), Guram Kashia, Kakha Kaladze, Aleksandr Amisulashvili, Zurab Khizanishvili, Otar Martsvaladze, Jaba Kankava (Ucha Lobzhanidze, 41), Levan Mchedlidze (Alexander Gurili, 66), Levan Kobiashvili, David Targamadze.
Greece: Alexandros Tzorvas, Nikos Spyropoulos, Alexandros Tziolis (Giorgos Fotakis, 56), Angelos Charisteas, Giorgos Karagounis, Loukas Vyntra, Dimitris Salpingidis (Stephanos Athanasiadis, 68), Fanis Gekas (Panagiotis Kone, 90), Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Costas Katsouranis, Kyriakos Papadopoulos.