Captain Giorgos Karagounis scored late in the first half, sending Greece to a stunning 1-0 victory over Russia Saturday at the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland, and on to the quarter-finals.
This was suspose to be a formality for high-scoring Russia. Leading Group A with one game remaining against the less talented Greeks, Russia simply needed a draw to move on to the quarter-finals.
What transpired was a nightmare loss to send the Russians packing.
The Czechs, who defeated Poland on Saturday, won Group A with six points. Greece’s victory over Russia pulled the two nations even with four points, but the Mediterranean country secured the second-place finish with the head-to-head win.
The teams appeared headed to a scoreless draw heading into the half until a defensive blunder led to a Greece goal in extra time. Russian defender Sergei Ignashevich's header off a throw-in was intercepted by Karagounis, who then raced across the right side untouched and fired a low drive past goalie Vyacheslav Malafeev.
A more desperate Russian side attacked with more vigour in the second half, but found penetrating the vaunted Greek defence a rather difficult task.
However, the Greeks were dealt a big blow in the 61st minute as Karagounis was given a second yellow card of the tournament for diving in the Russian penalty area. The irate Greek captain immediately got up and barked at referee Jonas Eriksson, feeling that he made contact with Ignashevich.
Greece will now have to play without Karagounis in the quarter-finals.
Russia had its best chance to tie the match in the 84th minute, only to see striker Alan Dzagoev — who shares the tournament’s goal-scoring lead with three — push his header just wide of the far post.
Greece, the 2004 European champions, continually showed the Russians why they defend so well with the lead, diplaying a shutdown defence while giving up little in the way of good scoring opportunities.
"We'll have to be aggressive in our defending, and not to let them run with the ball," Greece coach Fernando Santos said prior to the game.
They did just that in limiting Dzagoev and forward Andrey Arshavin.
Several disbelieving Russian players walked off the pitch wondering what went wrong.
After an impressive win 4-1 over the Czech Republic, they earned a draw against Poland. It was all in front of them — until they faced the pesky Greek.
What this result means
- Greece’s stunning win over Russian earned the nation second place in the group. The Greeks will now face winner of Group B in the knockout round.
The winning goal
- The Russians fell asleep at the wheel, it’s that simple. How else can you explain allowing a harmless throw-in into the game-winning goal on the final play of the first half?
Man of the match
- While he’ll be watching the quarter-finals from the stands, Karagounis’s game-winning goal gave Greece the biggest upset in Euro 2012.
The Greek perspective
- "The moments are pure magic for all of us. This is a great night for all Greeks. I thank God for living these moments. I cannot describe how I feel. It's so great." — Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis
The Russian perspective
- "We should have won by a wide margin tonight but we didn't. My compliments to Greece. A number of players weren't sharp enough to score." — Russia coach Dick Advocaat
With files from The Associated Press