Greece team lifts heart of a nation, blasting into Euro finals
The Greek national side celebrate after beating Russia at the Euro 2012 championships at the National Stadium in Warsaw. Photo: AFP
Amid the gloom of a political and economic crisis gripping their nation, Greece held off a nearly nonstop Russian attack on Saturday, moving into the European Championship quarter-finals.
The Greeks gave their took the lead just before the halftime whistle when Giorgos Karagounis sent a low shot under Russia goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev with the final touch of the first 45 minutes.
The 1-0 win put the Greeks into the next round, where they could face Germany in a politically charged match that would bring the financial crisis onto the field at Euro 2012.
Greeks find something to cheer about at last as their national football team takes out Russia to advance to the quarter-finals at the Euro 2012 championships. Photo: AFP
"We should have won by a wide margin tonight but we didn't. My compliments to Greece," Russia coach Dick Advocaat said. "A number of players weren't sharp enough to score."
Karagounis, playing his national record-tying 120th international match, will miss the quarterfinals after getting a yellow card for diving. The Greece captain thought he won a penalty when he made contact with Sergei Ignashevich in the area, but Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson instead booked him.
Russia had been the overwhelming favourite going into the match at the National Stadium, but it was again guilty of squandering chances.
The Russians became one of the tournament favourites with their 4-1 win over the Czech Republic in their opening match, but then drew with Poland and finally lost to Greece, snapping a 16-match unbeaten run.
"We did go forward, were very attacking. We played well, but you have to score goals," Advocaat said. "We did that in first game and despite all the possession today we didn't do that today."
Russian players dejectedly tramped off the field immediately after the final whistle, while Greece's euphoric players hugged one another and then celebrated with fans.
Giorgos Tzavelas also nearly gave Greece a two-goal cushion when he curled the free kick over the Russian wall in the 70th minute but saw the ball slam against the top of the post.
Michalis Sifakis then ensured his team would advance when he saved a close-range shot by substitute Pavel Pogrebnyak in second-half injury time.
Russia came close several times in the first half, but even as the team laid siege to the Greek goal it was largely restricted to long-range efforts after the break as it went after the equaliser.
Russia forward Alan Dzagoyev came close in the 84th minute with a glancing header off a cross from Andrei Arshavin, but the ball drifted just wide.
Greece, knowing it needed a win to progress after a draw and a loss in its first two Euro 2012 matches, started the match with a defensive set up aimed at stifling Russia's passing game in the midfield. Russia only needed a draw to reach the quarterfinals.
As the minutes drew down, the Greek fans sang the national anthem and the Russians lit of flares and walked out of the stadium.