Greece, cornered and faced with
an early exit from Euro 2012, came up with the goods on
Saturday, beating odds-on Group A favourites Russia 1-0 and
proving once again they perform best in the face of adversity.
There are comparisons with their stunning Euro 2004 triumph
when the Greeks came into the tournament as rank outsiders to
snatch the trophy in one of the biggest upsets in international
The will to win and succeed when everyone had ruled them out
are the same but this time there is more to the story than just
"We managed to qualify despite everything, that is why the
value of this qualification is great," said captain and scorer
Giorgos Karagounis who will miss the quarter-final through
The Greeks came into the tournament undefeated in 10
qualifiers and having conceded just five goals. They had also
lost only one match in their last 21 since the 2010 World Cup.
Yet it was their defence which let them down in the first
two group games, a 1-1 draw with Poland and a 2-1 defeat by the
Czech Republic with the backline in complete disarray at the
start of each match.
Matters got even worse with central defender Avraam
Papadopoulos injured in the first game and his partner Sokratis
Papastathopoulos was sent off, leaving coach Fernando Santos
with a makeshift backline against the Czechs.
They conceded two goals in the opening six minutes but
reorganised and came close to clawing their way back for a draw
as they had done against Poland.
The warning signs were there for Russia but it seemed they
were still gloating over their 4-1 win over the Czech Republic
and a dazzling performance first-half display against Poland who
fought back bravely to claim a 1-1 draw.
Russia coach Dick Advocaat even called them the best team in
Santos went back to basics against the quickfire Russians,
picking the team he arguably should have fielded from the start
of the tournament.
Sokratis was back and formed a natural partnership with
20-year-old Kyriakos Papadopoulos, whose immense talent has made
him a starting fixture at Bundesliga club Schalke 04 since he
Gutsy Giorgos Tzavellas was moved to the left with Vasilis
Torosidis shutting out Russia's Andrei Arshavin on the other
side, while erratic Jose Holebas, poor in both previous games,
was relegated to the bench.
Strong and solid at the back, Santos also came up with an
effective attacking gameplan as his team had to win to stay in
the tournament, with both Fanis Gekas and Dimitris Salpingidis
in the line-up.
The diminutive forward duo added pace and control while also
working hard to break up Russian attacks at an early stage.
The Russians failed to penetrate often enough and resorted
to long-range efforts midway through the first half.
Greece had five shots with two on target while their
opponents fired a staggering 25 shots with 10 on goal but the
majority of those were wild efforts from 25 metres or more out.
The Russians ultimately paid the price for thinking they
were taking on a team who had come to the tournament to make up
the numbers as they did in 2004.
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