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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 October, 2003, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Greeks through to finals
Greece 1-0 Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland defender Aaron Hughes gets the ball away from Greece's Stelios Giannakopoulos

A second-half penalty gave Greece the win against Northern Ireland they needed to secure automatic qualification for the Euro 2004 finals in Portugal.

Vassilis Tsartas kept his cool to score the crucial spot-kick after George McCartney had brought down Zissis Vryzas.

Sunderland defender McCartney, who had already picked up a yellow card, was shown a straight red for the challenge as Vryzas seemed set to score.

It meant another night of disappointment for Sammy McIlroy's side.

For the first time in their history the province finished a qualifying campaign without a victory and they have now not scored for 13 games.

Up to that crucial penalty incident, Northern Ireland looked as if they might come away with a battling draw.

Skipper Keith Gillespie, celebrating his 50th cap, was given the lone frontman role with the David Healy out on the right wing.

It was Gillespie who nearly ended Northern Ireland's goal drought when his header landed on the roof of the net following a corner from Peter Kennedy.

However, that was a rare moment of danger for McIlroy's men as they spent most of the first half on the back foot.

But, as the game progressed, there was a little bit of anxiety creeping into the home side as news came through that Greece's qualification rivals Spain were beating Armenia.

However, the tension eased when Vryzas beat Maik Taylor from the penalty spot in the 69th minute.

Northern Ireland substitute Andy Smith squandered a glorious chance of equalising in the 79th minute when he blazed a shot over the bar after Traianos Dellas slipped.

In the end the penalty proved decisive and the final whistle sparked great celebrations among the Athens fans.

Greece: Nikopolidis, Seitaridis, Fissas, Dabizas, Dellas, Basinas (Zagorakis 89), Antzas, Vryzas, Charisteas, Tsartas, Giannakopoulos.
Subs not used: Georgiadis, Venetidis, Katergiannakis, Kafes, Nikolaidis, Karagounis.

Booked: Charisteas, Dellas.

Northern Ireland: Taylor, Baird, McCartney, Aaron Hughes, Kennedy, Elliott (Murdock 70), Gillespie (Smith 63), Griffin (Jones 88), Whitley, Michael Hughes, Healy.
Subs not used: Carroll, Kirk, Hamilton, Holmes.

Sent off: McCartney (69).

Booked: Taylor, Michael Hughes, McCartney, Whitley.

Attendance: 12,500.

Referee: Lucilio Cardoso Cortez Batista (Portugal)

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