This was a day talent took a backseat and words like "heart", "courage", "bottle" were used as descriptives. In the end Russia flattered to deceive having won the statistical battle in every department except in the one that really matters as one's mouth runs dry saying it. 62% possession to 38%, 25 attempts to 5, 12 corners to 5. They started their campaign on fire reducing the Czechs to a 4-1 byline and then throwing Poland on the ropes to enter their final match hands down favourites to progress all the while playing some of the competition's best football. But it was unheralded Greece that pulled the rug from under.
Greece's hero was Giorgios Karagounis, the most capped player for his country and a veteran of the victorious 2004 Euro squad. Few know better than 1-0 giant killing margins like Greece and Karagounis. They were helped by a Russian team that seemed to think the last day was all about collecting towels. Except for some nice flourishes by Andrey Arshavin which led to a few close encounters on goals with his attempt and Alan Dzagoev's header amongst them, the Russians tried to solve the doughty Greek defense long range.
Karagounis's goal came after Sergei Ignashevich misdirected a header off a thrown in straight into the path of the scampering captain who thrust forward and then smashed the ball past Malafeev. The same Ignashevich then blatantly fouled Karagounis while in the box but referee Jonas Eriksson inexplicably booked the Greek for diving when it should have been a red card to Ignashevich and a penalty. Karagounis will miss his next match because of that booking.
This bit of injustice was a reprieve for Russia for they could still progress as long as the Czechs did not score a goal against Poland. It all came to an end in the 72nd minute as Petr Jiracek put the Czechs through leaving Russia scrambling to find a goal in the next 20 minutes. Dick Advocaat threw the kitchen sink introducing Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pobregnyak but with four strikers on the pitch only Dzagoev came tantalizingly close to the elusive equalizer. At the other end Greece through Giorgos Tzavellas were denied a second goal when his free kick struck the upright after having beaten Malafeev. It seemed just that sort of evening. Every time Russia came close to the answer, the Greeks showed they were ready with more questions.
Afterwards, Karagounis talked about the match:
"We played with heart and soul which are the characteristics of this team," he said. "We displayed those qualities throughout, showing our character. We were only playing for one result and we got it. The supporters were splendid and we managed to get a result which will bring joy to Greeks around the world. Sometimes it's not just about qualifying but about the performance, and that was all important for us."
Soccerblog was amongst the many who did not pick the plucky Greeks but let us say that this deserved victory will bring a bit of sunshine to a country wracked by a failing economy, massive debt, record unemployment, and looking at the wrecking ball of austerity.