FRANKFURT, Germany — The eurozone economy eked out further growth in the third quarter, but economists still fear the region’s long-running debt crisis could soon spell a return to recession.

Third-quarter gross domestic product across the 17-nation shared-currency area expanded by 0.2 percent compared with the second quarter, and grew 1.4 percent versus the third quarter of 2010, the European Union’s statistics agency reported Tuesday. The figures matched forecasts.

GDP grew 0.2 percent in the second quarter as well.

“On the face of it, the fact that the real economy still managed to grow amidst the escalating debt crisis is somewhat of a relief,” said Martin van Vliet, an economist at ING Bank in Brussels. “However, looking beneath the surface, things don’t look so rosy.”

The results still leave real GDP for the eurozone below its 2008 peak, he noted, while growth was concentrated in just a few “core” countries, namely France and Germany.

German gross domestic product rose 0.5 percent in the third quarter compared with the second quarter, the Federal Statistics Office reported Tuesday. Compared with the third quarter of last year, the economy grew 2.6 percent.

Fears of slowing growth or outright recession have added to concerns about the ability of eurozone leaders to contain the debt crisis. Slower growth makes it more difficult to reduce debt as a percentage of gross domestic product, a key measure.

That has prompted some economists to sharply criticize policymakers for insisting on additional austerity by struggling governments, arguing it will only serve to deepen the tide of red ink they are attempting to stem.

Data show consumer demand in the core may have picked up, helping to take up some of the slack from contracting economies elsewhere in the eurozone, said Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics in London.

But he noted that other more timely indicators show that a sharp slowdown in activity is already under way in the fourth quarter.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi earlier this month said the eurozone was in danger of slipping into a “mild recession” by year end. The ECB cut its key lending rate in November by a quarter of a percentage point to 1.25 percent.

“We see no reason why conditions would be improving in November, given the continued uncertainty about whether the sovereign debt crisis will end in orderly resolution or something deeply damaging to all parties,” said Tom Rogers, senior economic adviser to the Ernst & Young Euro-Zone Forecast.

A sharp rise in government borrowing costs for peripheral and some core economies this month will only increase pressure for further austerity measures over the short to medium term, further weighing on confidence, he said.