WARSAW: Veteran Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis halted Russia’s Euro 2012 campaign in its tracks here on Saturday, as the underdogs unexpectedly beat the Group A early pacesetters 1-0 to reach the last eight instead.
Seconds before the end of stoppage time in the first half, the 35-year-old midfielder latch-ed onto a throw-in that Russian defender Sergei Ignashevich fail-ed to deal with. Dodging between the Russian rearguard, he fired a powerful low cross shot past goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.
The 4,000 Greek fans in Warsaw’s stadium, who up to then had largely been outsung by 20,000 Russians, went wild as Karagounis hit home to put his side through on the head to head rule — both sides ending on four points behind group winners the Czech Republic.
Greece, who drew 1-1 with tournament co-hosts Poland in their first match and then lost 2-1 to the Czechs, looked the hungrier side from the start and refused to play a walk on part in Russia’s expected drive to the quarter-finals.
Russia, meanwhile, had thrashed the Czech Republic 4-1 in their own opening match and then drawn 1-1 in a hard-fought match with Poland where they lost their lead. Karagounis, who was in Greece’s Euro 2004 winning squad, and his team-mates, had gone into the Russia game gung-ho, knowing that only a win would keep them in the tournament.
They had also said they aimed to bring some cheer to their crisis-ravaged homeland.
Six minutes in, Karagounis fired a corner to Kostas Katsouranis, and Dimitris Salpingidis bundled goalwards, only for Malafeev to save.
Salpingidis had been Greece’s hero of the night when, after coming on as a half-time substitute, he equalised against Poland for his side, earlier reduced to 10 men.
Three minutes later, Russian captain Andrey Arshavin crossed to rising star Alan Dzagoev but he was beaten by Greek goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis — brought in to replace Kostas Chalkias, injured in their defeat by the Czechs.
Dzagoev tried again a minute later, but fired over the bar, before Aleksandr Kerzhakov shot wide.
Russia continued to show their strength as the half progressed, underlining the Greeks’ vulnerability to counter-attacks.
But while not ironclad, Greece’s defence remained solid at the end. Five minutes from half-time, Yuri Zhirkov took a superb short corner, only to shoot over the bar.
Russia’s Advocaat regrets Greek reverse
Russia coach Dick Advocaat lamented his side’s failure to break down resilient Greece in Saturday’s surprise Euro 2012 loss which cost his side a place in the quarter-finals.
Veteran captain Giorgos Karagounis scored the only goal for the Greeks, champions in 2004, and Advocaat was left stunned as his side, who so impressively beat the Czech Republic in their first match, went from early Group A pace-setters to slumping out of the tournament “We played quite well — the other team just defended,” said Advocaat.
“In the second half, against a team like Greece, with all due respect, it was hard to play against them. But it’s not that we didn’t play well.
“With the staff we worked very hard to have a good team. We were undefeated for 16 games but we didn’t win today. That’s football. All compliments to Greece.