October 10, 2017 / 9:26 PM / 8 months ago

Soccer: Greece thump Gibraltar to claim playoff spot

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece thrashed visitors Gibraltar 4-0 on Tuesday to claim second place in their World Cup qualifying group and a spot in next month’s European playoff round.

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifications - Europe - Greece vs Gibraltar - Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, Greece - October 10, 2017 Greece's Kostas Mitroglou celebrates scoring their third goal with team mates REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

The Greeks had to wait for more than half an hour to break down their table-propping opponents, finally going ahead when captain Vasilis Torosidis scored with a diving header from Zeca’s cross in the 32nd minute.

Striker Kostas Mitroglou netted twice in three minutes just after the hour and substitute Giannis Gianniotas claimed the fourth in the 78th minute.

Greece finished behind Belgium with 19 points from 10 games in Group H to ensure they progressed to the playoffs as one of the best eight runners-up in the nine European groups.

Slovakia, who were second in Group F, were the only runners-up to miss out on a playoff spot.

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifications - Europe - Greece vs Gibraltar - Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, Greece - October 10, 2017 Greece's Kyriakos Papadopoulos in action with Gibraltar’s Jamie Coombes REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

“My goal since taking charge of the team has always been to qualify for the World Cup and I think we’ll make it through the playoffs,” said Greece’s German coach Michael Skibbe. “I don’t have a particular preference in terms of the team we will face.

It was an unspectacular campaign from Greece, who won their first three and final two games and in between went on a run of four successive draws — including a goalless stalemate at home to Estonia — and a defeat at home to Belgium.

Eight of their 17 goals were scored in the two games against Gibraltar.

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“If you don’t play as a compact unit then you can’t do it. We’ve been successful because we do just that. Everybody is playing their part and playing for the team,” said Skibbe.

“It’s been a very impressive and professional qualifying campaign from our side. We had some poor results lately, drawing at home with Estonia and then losing to Belgium, but in the end that point we got against Estonia was still important.”

Writing by Brian Homewood; Additional reporting by Graham Wood in Athens; Editing by Ken Ferris

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