Forecasts of a Greek economic recovery have been taken more seriously than Fernando Santos’s prediction that his players would be the ones celebrating at the end of this game; yet after a famous victory, celebrate Greece did. Russia were surprisingly sent home from the European Championship by the combined might of Greece and the Czech Republic, the former pulling off an unexpected yet wholly deserved victory here and the latter claiming the other qualification spot with a win against Poland.
This was a truly wretched Russian display yet even when trailing to Giorgos Karagounis’s goal they could have qualified with Greece had Poland held the Czechs goalless. That hope ran out 20 minutes from the end and despite making three attacking substitutions Russia were unable to get back into the game. This defeat must count as a shock, given that Russia were talked up as possible tournament winners after their stylish 4-1 victory on the first day, though playing this badly they would have been highly unlikely to progress far in the knockout stages.
Dick Advocaat, taking his leave as Russian manager, was not in a mood to make excuses. “There was only one team going forward and the other team just defended but we didn’t put away our chances,” he said. “You have to score if you are going to win and we just weren’t sharp enough. The players were not aware what was going on in the other game, our performance here was more important.”
Santos, the Portuguese coach of Greece, said he was satisfied with his players for the first time. “We deserved this result,” he said. “It was a matter of focus and concentration, it is just a pity we had to wait until the last match to find it. This match was really difficult for us but the players gave everything.”
Russia began in a surprisingly languid manner, allowing the Greeks to come at them as if they did not believe they represented a serious threat to their qualification hopes.
Nothing came of Greece’s early adventure and once their initial enthusiasm had subsided Russia showed what they were capable of by creating three good chances in as many minutes.
Russia were enjoying huge territorial advantage and by far the greater share of possession, yet their final ball was usually too casual or a patient passing move would result only in a wildly optimistic shot from distance. Advocaat had described the game as a must-win, insisting Russia needed to make sure of qualifying at the earliest opportunity after blowing a chance in their second game against Poland, yet his players appeared anything but urgent. They paid dearly for their slapdash play in the two minutes of added time in the first half.
In the end their rowdy fans made more of a mark on the tournament than their footballers.