Northern Ireland’s fairytale start to Euro 2016 qualifying continued in sensational style on Tuesday as Michael O’Neill’s side stunned former champions Greece 2-0 at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium in Athens.
The visitors were left celebrating their third straight victory thanks to goals from Jamie Ward and Kyle Lafferty and, sitting top of Group F, are starting to dream of reaching their first major championship finals since the Mexico World Cup of 1986.
The Irish took a deserved early lead in the ninth minute through Ward’s strike with Lafferty adding the decider in superb fashion on the counter-attack six minutes after halftime.
The victory piles the pressure on Claudio Ranieri’s side, who are second bottom of the group as Northern Ireland move two points clear of Romania at the top.
For Greece, who were favourites to win the group when the draw was made, it is the worst start to a qualifying campaign since Euro 2004, when they lost their opening two games before eventually qualifying and going on to win the tournament.
The Greeks started nervously in the face of early pressure from the visitors and found themselves behind when Ward worked hard to win a corner on the right flank.
The Derby striker got his reward after ruffling the feathers of Sokratis Papastathopoulos and captain Vasilis Torosidis by turning home the resulting corner from Oliver Norwood.
Nikos Karelis wasted the hosts’ best chance to level in the 34th minute when he lobbed his effort wide after being put clean through by Georgios Samaras.
It failed to prevent the visitors from coming forward, and Lafferty almost made it 2-0 on the stroke of halftime, surging past Kostas Manolas into the box before crashing his shot from an acute angle against the bar.
The Norwich striker did make it 2-0 with his third goal in as many matches, outpacing Kostas Stafylidis on a rapid break before scoring with a clinical, low shot.
Ireland stunned World Cup winners Germany with a stoppage time equaliser by John O’Shea on his 100th appearance to draw 1-1 in their Euro 2016 qualifier on Tuesday.
The Germans were in complete command, as they had been in their 2-0 defeat to Poland in Warsaw on Saturday, and had a bagful of chances against the Irish, but were again missing the finishing touch.
Toni Kroos seemed to have rescued the three points for the injury-hit Germans and settled the nerves of 50,000 fans in Gelsenkirchen with a powerful low drive that went in off the post.
But O’Shea silenced the home crowd with his stoppage-time goal to punish lacklustre Germany.
Poland’s fairytale triumph over Germany was quickly overtaken by a touch of anti-climax in Warsaw on Tuesday as they found themselves held to a 2-2 draw by Scotland in a pulsating Euro 2016 qualifier.
A pumped up crowd had expected more of the same from their new heroes in the National Stadium following the historic 2-0 win over the world champions but had to watch them come from behind to earn a point with a 76th minute goal from Arkadiusz Milik.
In the dying minutes, Poland poured forward and another memorable triumph looked on the cards as Kamil Grosicki hit the post and Robert Lewandowski forced a terrific save from David Marshall.
Yet Scotland, who had won a friendly in this same stadium in March, held on stoutly, once again looking like a rejuvenated side under Gordon Strachan’s stewardship.
Denmark thought they had earned a valuable point at home to Portugal in their Euro 2016 group I clash in Copenhagen on Tuesday but Cristiano Ronaldo popped up in stoppage time to deny both gravity and the Danes.