BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa (Reuters) - A moment of schoolyard silliness by Nigeria’s Sani Kaita reversed the match dynamic and opened the door for Greece to seal their first ever World Cup finals victory with a 2-1 win in Group B on Thursday.
The result — which also saw Greece’s score their first goals in the World Cup finals — kept alive their chances of progressing to the second round, although they face a surging Argentina in their final group match.
Kaita was sent off in the 33rd minute with Nigeria already a goal ahead for shoving and kicking out at Vassilis Torosidis when the ball was out of play.
A Kalu Uche free-kick had given Nigeria the lead in the 16th minute and the Super Eagles were playing with the grace and power that had made them one of Africa’s great hopes in the continent’s first World Cup.
“We started the game well, controlled the game, got the goal and then had a sending off. That caused us problems, especially in the first half,” Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback said after the match.
“I couldn’t see what happened from my position, what I heard they said he kicked him with the underside of his shoe. I see the Greek player laying, holding his head, so I really don’t know. It looks very strange,” Lagerback said.
With Kaita off the pitch, coach Otto Rehhagel replaced defensive midfielder Socratis Papastathopoulos with striker Giorgos Samaras, who minutes later had a shot cleared off the line.
Dimitris Salpingidis etched his name into Greek record books by scoring his country’s first ever World Cup goal with a 44th minute strike that deflected off Nigeria midfielder Haruna Lukman before flying into the net.
Salpingidis had previously scored the winner in the World Cup playoff against Ukraine to take his country to South Africa.
Torosidis pounced in the 71st minute as Nigeria were running out of steam.
It was not all one-way traffic though and, until the last quarter, Nigeria always looked like they might grab a goal on the counter-attack.
In one thrilling episode while the game was still tied, Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama superbly saved a point-blank shot by Greek striker Fanis Gekas. The Super Eagles raced forward as the Greeks were still holding their heads only for substitute Chinedu Obasi to miss an open goal.
With their usual defensive approach abandoned, Greece went close again through Samaras before Torosidis stabbed home the second after Enyeama had spilled a low Alexandros Tziolis shot.
Greece had lost all four of their previous World Cup games without scoring.
Greece’s first ever Wold Cup finals win puts them on three points with South Korea who earlier lost 4-1 to table-topping Argentina on Thursday, while Nigeria have no points from two games.
Greece coach Otto Rehhagel also said he was happy his team had kept alive hopes of progressing.
“We are going to take on Argentina, a world class team. They will clearly be better than us and we have got to see how to cope with them,” he told reporters.
“We all know the Argentine team is of extraordinary quality.”