Greece prosper at the Aviva
Republic of Ireland 0 Greece 1:Jose Holebas’s lone strike ensured the Republic of Ireland ended 2012 with a defeat as Greece triumphed at the Aviva Stadium as the Olympiacos midfielder struck after 29 minutes, turning John O’Shea to fire into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
The home side should have been awarded a penalty after Greek defender Konstantinos Stafylidis handled in the box in the opening stages, but despite youngster Robbie Brady and James McCarthy forcing saves from Orestis Karnezis, Giovanni Trapattoni’s youthful side could not find a way back into the game.
Trapattoni started with Brady on the right and James McClean on the left, but it was fullback Stephen Ward’s whose first-minute cross might have helped to get the home side off to the perfect start.
No team-mate could get to the ball as it sailed across the penalty area, but in his efforts to control and then clear, Stafylidis clearly handled, but crucially not in the opinion of Israeli referee Eitan Shmuelevitz.
Ireland were appealing once again three minutes later when striker Shane Long went down in the box under Sokratis Papastathopoulos’s challenge, although this time, their pleas were more muted.
Trapattoni’s men had started brightly and mustered their first real attempt with seven minutes gone, although McClean scuffed his left-foot shot wide of the far post.
They struck down the right three minutes later when full-back Seamus Coleman played a good one-two with Brady before floating an inviting cross into the middle.
Simon Cox pulled away from his marker to meet the ball unopposed, but could not direct his header on target.
McClean saw his 18th-minute cross deflected dangerously towards goal by Papastathopoulos after Long had cleverly flicked him into space with Ireland moving the ball confidently and at pace to good effect.
But David Forde was called upon for the first time five minutes later after Sotiris Ninis turned Ward before thumping in a right-foot drive from 25 yards which the goalkeeper had to palm away.
The visitors, for whom Samaras had earlier left the pitch for treatment to a head wound, were finally starting to find their feet to push Ireland back towards their own goal, although they posed little threat.
However, that changed with 29 minutes gone when, after a period of patient possession just outside the Ireland penalty area, the Greeks forced their way in front.
Striker Konstantinos Mitroglou fed the ball into Samaras, who laid it off for Holebas to turn O’Shea and rifle a right-foot shot low past the diving Forde’s out-stretched hand and into the bottom corner.
Trapattoni was forced to make a change 11 minutes before the break when Glenn Whelan left the pitch grimacing and later had his thigh strapped after he was replaced by Keith Andrews.
Long was booked for a clumsy 37th-minute challenge on Panagiotis Tachtsidis, but the wounded man picked himself up to fire high and wide seconds later.
Coleman and Brady were combining well down the right, and they did so once again four minutes before the break before fullback Stafylidis brought the former down.
However, Brady’s free-kick was easily cleared at the far post and Greece broke swiftly, and too swiftly for Ciarán Clark, who was booked for a scything challenge on Holebas on halfway.
Goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis had to beat away Brady’s well-struck shot in injury time, but Trapattoni’s men headed back to the dressing room still trailing.
Both managers made changes at the break, and one in particular was welcomed warmly by the home crowd.
In-form Norwich playmaker Wes Hoolahan replaced Brady to win just his second senior cap, while Kevin Doyle came on for Long, and Samaras made way along with Mitroglou for Konstantinos Fortounis and Dimitris Salpingidis.
The Ireland substitutions prompted a change of shape as Hoolahan lined up behind lone striker Doyle with Cox dropping in on the left and McClean switching to the right.
But it was McCarthy who very nearly dragged the home side back into the game within two minutes of the restart when Karnezis failed to hold his long-range shot and after Papastathopoulos had prevented Doyle from reaching the rebound, Cox’s follow-up was blocked behind.
Tachtsidis curled a 54th-minute free-kick over Forde’s bar, but as at the start of the first half, the momentum was with Ireland in the early stages.
Greece boss Fernando Santos made further changes on the hour when he sent on Loukas Vyntra and Ioannis Maniatis for Ninis and Vassilis Torosidis, and Trapattoni responded by replacing Cox with Andy Keogh who, as so often before in his international career, lined up in a wide midfield position rather than as a striker.
With Brady off the field, McClean took over set-piece duties, but he wasted a 64th-minute free-kick after McCarthy had been felled by Stafylidis when he drilled it straight at the same man.
Coleman produced a neat trick to slip away from Fortounis before being barged to the ground by Stafylidis and from the resulting free-kick, the ball eventually dropped to Ward, who mishit his 69th-minute shot harmlessly across goal.
McCarthy’s evening came to a conclusion with 20 minutes remaining as another youngster, Sunderland midfielder David Meyler was introduced.
Ireland were dominating possession, but struggling to create clear-cut openings as the Greeks defended stubbornly and sporadically attempted to hit them on the break.
Nikolaos Spyropoulos joined the fray as an 82nd-minute replacement for Stafylidis, who had endured a less than comfortable evening in Dublin, but he arrived with the game ebbing tamely towards the final whistle.
Fortounis was booked for an ugly lunge at Coleman with five minutes remaining, but again McClean delivered the free-kick directly into Karnezis’s waiting arms to let the visitors off the hook.