Greece bailed out again, another Czech mate and the Russian Resistance is defeated – Round 3 in Group A

Tonight was the start of the final round of games of Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine and everything was this finely balanced in Group A. In contrast to the previous two rounds of matches both games were scheduled to kick off at the same time to add to the intensity surrounding both matches.Russia were expected to win easily against Greece so the main focus was on the hosts in Wrocław, where they faced the Czech Republic.

Robert Lewandowski tries to steer his country into the last 8 with this close effort

A draw would send the Czech’s through providing Russia avoided defeat against Greece. However the hosts knew only a win would keep their tournament going. Nothing less would please the home fans. And they started off with the intent to make their dreams come to fruition.

Early on, it seemed as though Milan Baros and Co would not repeat their victory over Greece 4 days previously. Missing Tomas Rosicky due to an Achilles injury they struggled in the early stages as Poland looked the more likely to book themselves a place in the last 8. They controlled possession but made little chances. Albeit, this was more than their neighbours could muster in the first half. Milan Baros looked to be feeling the pace up front. The one bright spark for the Czech’s was Vaclav Pilar who looked a danger throughout, maybe he could unlock the Polish defence?

That turned out to be the case. After the interval, the pressure and expectation seemed to get to Poland. The work rate and endeavour that was on show in the first 45 minutes deserted them. Other results in the group mean there had to be a winner in this group and Pilar rose to the challenge. His role on the left of the3 ina 4-2-3-1 formation was troubling his opponents and it was only a matter of time before  a run of this sort troubled Poland.

Except, after the all the hype it wasn’t Pilar who struck the fatal blow. In the 72nd minute, forLiverpool striker Milan Baros burst through the middle of the Polish defence. He laid the ball to Petr Jiracek. Still with a bit to do, he turned onto his right foot and slotted the ball past Tyton in the Polish goal. This turned out to be the winning goal and the Czech’s had qualified.

But who would be joining them in the next round?

Under a rare clear sky of Warsaw, the other match in Group A between Russia and Greece kicked off knowing that all four teams had a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages of these European Championships. Russia enjoyed a comfortable win over the Czech Republic in the first game, and drew against co-hosts Poland in the second to sit on top of the group. They knew a a point would send them through whereas Greece needed an unlikely win to go through after they drew against Poland in the first game, but went down 2-1 to the Czechs in their second game.

The Russians got the best of the early running, Greek goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis having to be on his toes to intercept a dangerous through ball that was running into the path of Roman Shirokov. It took a while for Greece to get back into it but they soon got back into it and after some  direct football from they started testing Russia early as Giorgias Samaras flashed a ball across the 6 yard box but there were no Greek shirts on hand to capitalise.

Russia have been playing some excellent football so far in the tournament, and following a lapse of concentration, Shirokov nipped in and flashed a ball across Sifakis’ goal, the Greek net minder had to be alert to deny Andrei Arshavin’s touch. Aleksandr Kerzhakov (who’s had a frustrating tournament by all accounts) was next to have an effort on goal; his well struck volley flew inches past the right hand upright in a lively opening to the game. Just before the 20th minute mark Alan Dzagoev intercepted a ball in midfield and made ground to the edge of the box before forcing a save from Sifakis before Arshavin drove an effort just to the right capping off a 10 minute period in which Dick Advocatt’s men dominated proceedings.

As the clock ticked towards half time, the Russians again began to look dangerous. First Glushakov had a shot which was deflected just wide, and from the resulting corner a few feet separated Kerzhakov’s drive and the back of the net. But it was the Greeks, who hadn’t a shot on target since the 5th minute, were soon to take the lead. Yuri Zhirkov’s lapse in concentration saw him head the ball straight to the feet of Giorgos Karagounis, who had largely been anonymous in the game up to that point. He stole in behind and fired a vicious dipping shot which flew under Malfeev’s body and into the back of the Russian net. 1-0 Greece and as the teams headed in for half time. It was a real turn up for the books.

Dick Advocatt switched Kerhzhakov for Roman Pavlyuchencko as Swedish referee Jonas Erickson blew his whistle to re-commence proceedings. Both teams knew that as it stood, they’d be through. Neither side was going to settle for the result though, Samaras fired wide from 25 yards while at the other end Shirokov volleyed over. Five minutes later Denisov was a few feet from tying up proceedings with Sifakis helpless in the Greek net. The Russian midfielder could have been cursing his luck soon after, but Aleksei Berezutski denied Theofanis Gekas an almost certain tap in.

It was the Greeks then cursing their luck after being denied a certain penalty. A dangerous run by the goal scorer Karagounis was abruptly brought to an abrupt end by a cynical foul by Sergeo Ignashevich, and inexplicably, despite three officials having a clear view, the Greek captain was booked, making him unavailable for the knockout stages. A very controversial and clearly wrong decision by referee Erickson’s team. An apoplectic and inconsolable Karagounis was taken off after berating the officials by Fernando Santos, who was no doubt afraid he would be sent off for his antics. Greece were now well on top and after a Zhirkov foul, Giannis Maniatis rattled the crossbar, leaving Malafeev a statue in the Russian goal.

Karagounis puts Greek fans into dreamland. But will they continue to upset the odds?

The Russians began to turn up the heat not long after. They knew they needed to score to avoid going out. Igor Denisov had a powerful low drive saved well by Michaelis Sifakis as the momentum began to change. With about 10 minutes left in the game, Russia made their final change; Alexsandr Anyukov making way for Marat Izmailov while Greece replaced Dimitrius Salpingidis for Sotiris Ninis. Then Russia had their best chance in the game, an early cross by Arshavin found Dzagoev at the near post, but the CSKA Moscow man could only touch the ball inches by the far post.

As desperation kicked in, tensions started to rise  between the two sides over Kostas Katsouranis’ time wasting. The game began to turn into a game of attack V defence as the Russians desperately tried to get an equaliser as Greece tried to hangon to their Euro 2012 status for dear life. Sergei Ignashevich and Zhirkov got mixed up which led to a weak header from the latter not troubling the Greek defence as 4 minutes of added time was announced. Pogerbnyak had a powerful effort batted away by Greek net minder Sifakis but the whistle had gone for a handball. The Russians kept piling on the pressure and wasting corners, and as Alan Dzagoev blasted the final shot into the Vistula River, the side tipped to reach the semi-finals once more were out of Euro 2012. To a cacophony of boos in the National Stadium in Warsaw, Andrei Arshavin and his men bowed out of the tournament in the most unceremonious of ways.

As it stands now, the Czech Republic will most likely face Denmark or Portugal in the next round where as Greece will probably face Germany. With the trouble going on in the Eurozone at the moment it means that if Germany and Greece are to meet one another it could be an iconic meeting between the two countries. Either way, the excitement of Euro 2012 shows no signs of letting up any time yet.

By Robert O’Reardon and Kevin Galvin


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