- Associated Press - Sunday, September 7, 2014

PIRAEUS, Greece (AP) - Ciprian Marica scored a 10th-minute penalty before being sent off in the second half as Romania beat Greece 1-0 away in their opening Euro 2016 qualifier on Sunday.

Romania captain Marica was given a second yellow card for a harsh challenge on Andreas Samaris in the 53rd minute of the Group F match.

Greece played in front of empty stands at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, as punishment for crowd trouble in the team’s last European Championship qualifier at home, in October 2011, when fans lobbed firebombs at Croatia fans.

“It was a great victory against perhaps the best team in the group,” Romania coach Victor Piturca said. “We had a slight advantage in the first half and we remained very concentrated in the second. We knew Greece would be tired after playing in the World Cup.”

The empty stadium seemed to affect the Greeks, who appeared lethargic at the start. Romania was more lively on the attack and won a penalty when Jose Holebas brought Alexandru Chipciu down inside the area.

The shock failed to galvanize the home side, which created no significant chances throughout the first half, while Romania nearly took a 2-0 lead through Gabriel Tamas, whose glancing header off a corner kick was blocked with some difficulty by goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.

Marica’s dismissal left Greece with a lot of space, but Romania defended well and Greece was reduced to trying its luck with long-range shots. Its first chance from inside the area didn’t arrive until the 78th minute, when Panayiotis Kone’s header was blocked by goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.

Vasilis Torosidis had Greece’s best chance to equalize when his header in the 89th glanced off the crossbar following a free kick taken by Kone.

“The game was not good, but we deserved the draw,” Greece’s new coach Claudio Ranieri said. “We’ll do better when we have more training under our belts and the players will know what I demand of them.”

“We tried, but nothing seemed to work. It is not easy to create chances when the opponent hunkers down on defense,” said midfielder Panagiotis Tachtsidis.

Greece had eliminated Romania in a two-game playoff to reach the World Cup finals.

The away teams also won in the other two Group F games. Northern Ireland overcame a late lead by Hungary to win 2-1 and Finland, down 1-0 to the Faroe Islands at halftime, won 3-1.

In Budapest, goals from Niall McGinn in the 81st and Kyle Lafferty in the 88th earned Northern Ireland a 2-1 win over Hungary. Tamas Priskin had opened the scoring for the home side in the 75th.

At Torshavn, Riku Riski scored in the 53rd and 78th for Finland, with Roman Eremenko adding a third in the 78th. Christian Holst had opened the scoring for the Faroe Islands in the 41st.

In the next round of matches, on Oct. 11, Romania hosts Hungary, Northern Ireland plays the Faroe Islands and Greece travels to Finland.

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