zondag 17 juni 2012

Euro 2012 Report - Saturday 16 Juni

Greece 1-0 Russia
Captain Karagounis clinches qualification to send Advocaat's side home
The Greeks soaked up pressure throughout the match before exploiting a defensive lapse from the Russians which proved to be an expensive mistake

UEFA EURO 2012 - Greece v Russia, Giorgos Karagounis and Yuriy Zhirkov

A hard working performance and an opportunistic Giorgios Karagounis strike saw Greece sneak a 1-0 win over Russia to seal their Euro 2012 progress and send their opponents home.

Despite being under pressure for large parts of the game the Greeks took the lead in first-half stoppage time as Karagounis punished some sloppy defending with a neat finish. 

And his side remained resolute in defence throughout the second half to secure a famous victory which, coupled with the Czech Republic's win over Poland, meant Russia finished third in Group B.

The Ethniki came into the game knowing they needed a win to ensure qualification and they were the first to draw a save from the opposing keeper. Karagounis' near-post delivery was  flicked on target by Kostas Katsouranis but Vyacheslav Malafeev clawed the ball away at full stretch.

Russia responded positively, and three minutes later Alan Dzagoev broke in from the right following a quick throw. Andrey Arshavin got on the end of his cross 10 yards from goal and Michalis Sifakis was forced to parry the ball away. 

Dick Advocaat's side were in the ascendancy and moments later had two great chances to go ahead. Firstly, Aleksandr Kerzhakov failed in his quest to get his first shot of the tournament on target as his volley bent agonisingly wide of the far post. Then, Yuri Zhirkov's cutback for Dzagoev was intercepted by Katsouranis.

By the half-hour mark the Russians had taken control of the match but were more often than not being restricted to shooting from range. Yet, when in possession, the Greeks lacked ambition and committed minimal numbers to their attacks.

Zhirkov fired over five minutes before the break but Fernando Santos' side held out and in stoppage time Karagounis fired Greece into a surprise lead. A misplaced header by Sergey Ignashevich was capitalised on by the 35-year-old who capped his 120th international appearance - a statistic equalling the country's all-time record - by surging into the area and slamming a low shot underneath Malafeev.

Roman Pavlyuchenko replaced the profligate Kerzhakov at half-time but the Russians continued to struggle against the resilient Ethniki defence. Their woes were best summed up when, with space limited in the final third, Igor Denisov shot from distance only to see his effort swing wide. 

Greece remained a threat on the counterattack and after Aleksandr Anyukov somehow cleared Vasilis Torosidis' cross away from inside the six yard box, Karagounis received a booking that will keep him out of the next match for diving in the area though it looked like a certain penalty. 

Santos signalled his intent to see out the game with the solitary goal by replacing striker Theofanis Gekas with left-back Jose Holebas 25 minutes from time. But the Ethniki almost extended their lead in the 70th minute when Gergios Tzavellas' beautifully struck free kick rattled the frame of the goal.

In their desperation to find an equaliser Advocaat's side became extremely disjointed and another long-range attempt from Denisov was saved by Sifakis. With five minutes of normal time remaining Dzagoev came close to restoring parity but his header from Arshavin's cross shaved the outside of the post.

And the Greeks held out to secure their passage to the quarter-finals whilst Russia - who had shown so much promise in their opening game against the Czech Republic - face an early flight home.

Czech Republic 1-0 Poland
Jiracek sends co-hosts crashing out
The Wolfsburg man provided a rare moment of class in a scrappy, hard-fought game, putting his side into the quarterfinals as Group A winners

Gebre Selassie, Lewandowski, Czech Republic v Poland

Petr Jiracek broke Polish hearts in Wroclaw, netting the only goal of a tense Group A encounter to secure a 1-0 win and last-eight berth for Czech Republic. 

The Wolfsburg midfielder was clinical in converting Milan Baros' pass 72 minutes into the game after Poland had been caught on the break and left wide open at the back. The Czechs held on to record all three points, and qualify along with Greece for the next stage.

With both sides needing a win to guarantee their place in the quarterfinals, the game started at a frantic pace with plenty of goalmouth action. Poland was the first team to go close, when Dariusz Dudka's improvized overhead kick flew into the side netting with the home crowd ready to celebrate the opener. 

The Czechs also went close through Vaclav Pilar in the opening stages, when the midfielder fluffed a first-time effort having been set up brilliantly by Theodor Gebre Selassie. It was the hosts, however, who dominated proceedings in the first half. Ludovic Obraniak was at the heart of the attack, and his delicate ball almost released Jakub Blaszczykowski on the left hand side but Petr Cech reacted well to close the play down. 

It was all Poland at that point, with the Czech side struggling to string two passes together in the face of fierce pressing. An off-balance Robert Lewandowski should at least have hit the target with a shot that veered wide in a dangerous position, while Boenisch forced another save from Cech with a decent long-range effort and Marcin Wasilewski directed a tame header into the Chelsea man's arms. 

The Czechs' best chance of the first arguably fell to Milan Baros. The ex-Liverpool striker timed his run perfectly to spring the offside trap, but hesitated and could not control a decent lofted pass from deep as the danger passed.

A Greece goal against Russia in first-half injury time left Group A on a knife-edge, with both Czech Republic and Poland facing elimination if the scores stayed the same at the final whistle. Michal Bilek's men probed early after the restart, but despite some decent possession around the opposition area could not find a way through the determined hosts' defence. 

David Limbersky had a half chance to open the scoring as he powered into the box, but his shot could only find the side-netting once more as the game remained in an uneasy deadlock. The reticence of the Polish team to push forward, meanwhile, was baffling, as only a win would put the home side into the next round no matter how events in the other game finished. The home fans looked to Kamil Grosicki to make the difference, the Sivasspor winger entering just under 15 minutes into the second half in place of Eugen Polanski to add a new attacking dimension to the Polish team.

The change did not translate into extra potency in the final third, however, and numerous fouls from the hosts ruined their rhythm and handed their rivals the initiative. The Czechs had several chances from free kicks in dangerous areas, but failed to take advantage and net the goal that would take them above Greece and into the next round. One of those dead-balls forced a reaction save from Tyton, but the keeper was attentive and punched clear under heavy pressure. 

With 20 minutes left on the clock, it was the Czech Republic which took the advantage. A slick counter left Poland exposed at the back, and Baros slipped to Jiracek who did well to turn onto his right foot and coolly hit past Tyton.

The goal was a mortal blow for Franciszek Smuda's men, who looked unable to recompose themselves and fight for a now-unlikely victory. Baros momentarily thought he had sewn up the three points when he rounded Tyton, but the play was called back for a marginal offside and the Czechs stayed one goal up. The Polish fans sang their heart out right to the end but, despite a near-miss for Wasilewski right at the death, their efforts were in vain as the hosts bade farewell to the competition.

The central European nation therefore finishes top of Group A with six points, two clear of Greece which goes through after defeating Russia 1-0. Poland, meanwhile lies bottom of the pile and crashes out on home soil, having picked up just two points and failing to win in its fleeting Euro 2012 campaign.

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