Athens: 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 twogames before eventually qualifying and going on to win the tournament.
"I`ve never seen Greece beaten by two goals in a home match before, even if the fact we scored at the start of each half played a vital role," Northern Ireland keeper Roy Carroll told reporters.
The 37-year-old, who spent two seasons with Olympiakos Piraeus, added: "It’s great to be back in Greece and play so well. I had 10 players in front of me who did a great job both in defence and attack so I’m very pleased with the win and keeping a clean sheet."
Greece boss Ranieri, still looking for his first win after three games, said: "We conceded two goals at the start of each half, the Irish were very disciplined and dangerous going forward with Lafferty.
“There’s no doubt that we need to improve as a team and find harmony; it’s not about separating players though. The only thing I’d say is that we need our wide players to be a bit more direct in taking players on and taking risks going forward."
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 beingput 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 rapidbreak before scoring with a clinical, low shot.