It’s amazing how in the course of a 90 minute game, a faint hope, a lingering dream can be either realised or crushed. The Russian national football team walked into their match with Greece favourites to progress from Group A. 2 hours later, they left Warsaw defeated, and more importantly, eliminated from Euro 2012 purely due to the fact that Greece won. A lack of discipline ultimately proved to be the decisive factor, and a solitary goal against the run of play was enough to seal the Russians fate.
The first half Russia dominate large swathes of possession. However, the first real chance fell to the Greeks, as Kostas Katsouranis cheekily flicked on a corner with his head, only to be denied by the outstretched hand of Igor Malafeev. After that, the majority of the chances fell to the Russians. Andrey Arshavin nudged on a cross from 6 yards directly into the waiting arms of the Greek stopper Michalis Sifakis, before Kerzhakov fired a lethal volley from outside the box, that almost made for the most spectacular goal of the tournament, before ultimately bending 6 inches too far of the post.
The Russians stuck largely to the attacking motions they had used in their previous two games, but ultimately found themselves shut down quickly and effectively by the Greeks, who, coupled with a great performance by Sifakis, put in a supreme defensive effort for the entire game. The same defensive discipline was not displayed by the Russians, as a poorly defended Greek throw in fell directly to captain Giorgos Kargounis. After breaking clear of the Russian defence, he lasered the ball past a hapless Malafeev into the opposite corner to put the Galanolefki one ahead going into the half-time break.
What followed was a well structured performance by the Greeks. Happy to play on the back-foot for alot of the time, they used the counterattack well and found created chances well while making life endlessly difficult for an increasingly desperate Russian offence. Russia resorted increasingly to long range efforts, to no avail. The Greeks made far more of their attacking opportunities, and almost went ahead three times between the 60 and 70 minute marks. A Vasilis Toroidis cross was defended over the bar valiantly by Aleksandr Anyukov, before Karagounis was felled in the box by Segei Ignashevich only to be booked for simulation by referee Eriksson. This decision not only wrongly denied Greece a penalty, but also leaves Greece without their captain for the quarter-final. The Greeks almost got justice a few minutes later, as Giorgios Tzavelas fired a free-kick into the bar, cruelly denying them another opportunity to double their lead.
Russia appeared devoid of any real fight, and only a last-ditch effort by starlet Alan Dzagoev came close to equalising for the boys in red. In what became a feared combination throughout the group stages, Arshavin fired a cross onto the waiting head of Dzagoev, who nudged it heartbreakingly wide of the bar. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Greece had won the tournament with their reaction after the full-time whistle blew, as scenes of joy erupted for the deserved victors. Russia face a long trip home, and a country that has faced so much hardship has found a slight ray of hope through a wonderfully common source. Football.