DONETSK, Ukraine (AFP) - Greece reached the World Cup finals for the first time since 1994 on Wednesday with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Ukraine in the return leg of their European zone play-off.
Panathinaikos striker Dimitris Salpingidis netted the only goal of the match sending Greece, the 2004 European champions, into their second World Cup finals after a 16-year absence.
"I'm proud of my players. They put all of their heart and soul into today's match," said Greece manager Otto Rehhagel.
"It was really tough to contain Ukraine's attacks throughout the match but we did our best and luckily we managed to do it and achieve the desired result."
Greece and Ukraine, who were deadlocked at 0-0 after the first leg in Athens on Saturday, struggled to impose themselves early on in a match played on a rain-soaked pitch of the half-empty, 50,000-seater Donbass Arena.
Ukraine skipper Andrei Shevchenko missed a chance to put his team into the lead in the eighth minute, when he failed to send home a rebound after Greece 'keeper Alexandros Tzorvas deflected Alexander Aliev's shot.
Greece replied with a seven-metre header by Celtic forward Giorgos Samaras, which went just inches above the crossbar from a well-struck Giorgos Karagounis freekick.
Just after the half-hour mark Salpingidis gave Greece the lead, beating Ukraine's defenders on a breakaway and receiving a razor-sharp pass from Samaras to score past goalkeeper Andrei Pyatov.
After the break, the hosts continued to press under the watchful gaze of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.
But Greece defended well, stifling the hosts' attacks into fruitless long-range shots and replying on the couters.
Oleg Gusev missed Ukraine's last chance to level in injury time, but his six-yard shot went wide after Tsorvas deflected Yevgeny Seleznov's drive from the edge of the box.
"I don't have any criticism of my players. They gave all they had today but unfortunately it was not enough," said Ukraine coach Alexei Mikhailichenko.
"We had several scoring chances but there were too many mistakes and it was the main reason of the defeat."
|Coach: O. Mykhaylychenko|
for O. Aliyev 56'
for T. Mykhalyk 65'
for A. Yarmolenko 69'
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