Greece tops Russia 1-0, makes quarters at Euro
A Russian supporter sits in the stands after the Euro 2012 soccer championship Group A match between Greece and Russia in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, June 16, 2012. Greece won 1-0. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)
WARSAW, Poland - Shades of 2004.
Greece surged into the European Championship quarterfinals, defeating Russia 1-0 Saturday on a goal by Giorgos Karagounis just before halftime.
Karagounis, making his team record-tying 120th international appearance, sent a low shot under goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev with the final touch of the first half.
The Greeks, the 2004 European champions, then did what they do best: defend.
"The moments are pure magic for all of us. This is a great night for all Greeks," Karagounis said. "I cannot describe how I feel. It's so great."
Greece was a long shot at Euros eight years ago and after sneaking into the knockout rounds, it stormed to the title. Could it happen again?
"What inspires us is Greece's history. That inspires me a lot," said Greece coach Fernando Santos, who is Portuguese. "The Greeks have great pride and they have earned respect from everyone. History democracy, science, values — it all started in Greece."
For the Russians, it was a shocking early dismissal after they made the semifinals four years ago. Russia was the overwhelming choice going into the match at the National Stadium, but it was again guilty of squandering chances. The Russians finished the match with 25 shots on goal, while Greece managed only five.
"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."
The Russians became one of the tournament favourites with their 4-1 win over the Czech Republic in their opening match, then drew with Poland and finally lost to Greece, snapping a 16-match unbeaten run.
Even as the Greeks closed down in front of their net late in the match, Karagounis looked to have won a penalty kick when Sergei Ignashevich appeared to bring him down in the area. But Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson instead booked the Greece captain for a dive, meaning he will miss the quarterfinals.
"We are proud that we gave the people back home some joy and a break from their problems — even for a short while," Greece striker Georgios Samaras said. "We did very well defensively, but the will we had was the main thing. That stopped them from scoring goals."
Russian players dejectedly tramped off the field immediately after the final whistle, while Greece's euphoric players hugged one another and then celebrated with their fans.
"What I'm feeling is overwhelming. I think we did deserve more, but it didn't happen," Malafeev said. "To concede that goal just before halftime was an awful feeling."
Giorgos Tzavelas nearly gave Greece a two-goal cushion when he curled a free kick over the Russian wall in the 70th minute, but saw the ball slam against the top of the goalpost.
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 equalizer.
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, started the match with a defensive setup aimed at stifling Russia's passing game in the midfield. Russia only needed a draw to reach the quarterfinals.
As the minutes ticked off, Greek fans sang the national anthem and the Russians lit off flares before walking out of the stadium.