Greece entered the final round of Group A fixtures staring Euro 2012 elimination in the face, while Russia appeared to have one foot in the quarter-finals. Football is a funny old game, though, and you can never take anything for granted. Here, we look at the talking points from an intriguing 90 minutes in Warsaw.
Last Updated: June 16, 2012 10:23pm
Group A was written off by many pre-tournament critics as being the weakest, and possibly least entertaining, four-team selection at Euro 2012. In the end it provided thrills and spills aplenty - not least during the final round of fixtures. Heading into Saturday it appeared as though Russia were destined for the last eight, while Greece would be forced to turn their attention to domestic troubles back home. Things do not always go to plan though. Here, we take a look at the talking points which emerged on an intriguing evening in Warsaw.
History appeared to be weighted against Greece prior to kick-off, with it difficult to see past a Russian victory. The two nations met at Euro 2004 and 2008, with the Russians emerging victorious on each occasion. In fact, Greece entered Saturday evening having prevailed in just one of 10 previous meetings. Russia must have felt that they had the measure of the Greeks, and would have been buoyed by some of the Greek defending leading up to the game. It was, however, to be the men in blue and white who had the last laugh and avoided an unwanted European Championship hat-trick.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov continued his record-breaking tournament run. Kerzhakov has become a figure of ridicule for managing the most shots off-target in a European Championship finals game, a reputation he cemented against Greece. He once again failed to hit the target in 45 minutes of leading the Russian front-line. It was an eye-catching performance for all the wrong reasons, the highlight of which was an unimpressive air-kick inside the box. In his defence he did pull a good effort out of the bag which flew narrowly high of the bar but you have to question why Dick Advocaat insisted on starting him in favour of Roman Pavlyuchenko. Kerzhakov failed to hit the target on too many occasions and Russia were punished. They now have the plane ride home to think about it.
Much has been made of Aleksandr Kerzhakov's struggles in front of goal, but he was by no means the only Russian to let the side down against Greece. Dick Advocaat's side created chances, but failed to take them. In fact, Kerzhakov came closest to finding the target with a swerving volley. Alan Dzagoev had been impressive up until this point, but he was unable to add to his three goals in the tournament. In the end, the Russians were left to rue some wayward finishing and their inability to produce a killer ball when it mattered most.
Against the Czech Republic, Greece were 2-0 down inside six minutes and all but out of the game before it had got going. This was a side that conceded just five goals in 10 qualification games - with only Russia, Italy and France boasting better defensive records. They looked back to their resolute best against the Russians, even if they rode their luck at times - especially towards the end. Organisation returned to their back four and the clean sheet they desperately needed was secured without too much fuss.
Giorgos Karagounis really wore his heart on his sleeve with a fiery performance. In his 120th game for his country, the Greece captain was involved in two of the biggest talking points of the game. Picking up the ball after the Russian defence went missing, Karagounis carried it forward and slammed the only goal of the game under Vyacheslav Malafeev. He then seemed to have won his side a penalty from a trip inside the box, but Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson flashed him a yellow for diving. The rattled Greek captain was quickly taken off and will miss the quarter-final, but his spirited response embodied more passion than all of the Russian side put together.
Advocaat to blame?
Russia went into this game as massive favourites to go into the quarter-finals but you have to feel Dick Advocaat got it all wrong here. In persisting with the woefully misfiring Aleksandr Kerzhakov up-front Russia simply did not score enough goals. Advocaat waited until half-time to replace him with Roman Pavlyuchenko but they could not kick-start a slow start. Getting out of the group was the very minimum expected of this talented Russian side. In his final game in charge before taking over at PSV Eidhoven, Advocaat has confined them to the shock of Euro 2012 so far. Questions will be asked over his team selection. In a Russian squad so rich in attacking options, why did he fail to have a Plan B?
Russia started the day top of Group A, with Greece propping up the rest at the foot of the standings. Fast forward 90 minutes and it is the Russians heading home and the Greeks going through. Football is renowned for its ability to produce the unexpected, but few will have seen this coming. Russia started the tournament brightly and were billed as potential dark horses to go all the way. Greece, meanwhile, were a shambles at the back and were struggling to see where the goals were going to come from. They are, however, readying themselves for a shot at the quarter-finals at a repeat of their 2004 heroics.