Champions Greece out after defeat to Russia
After four years as European Champion, Greece lost the title in just 180 minutes.
The defending champions were eliminated from the European Championship on Saturday after losing to Russia 1-0, its second straight defeat in Group D, and Greece now faces Spain in an indifferent final Wednesday with little to play for. "We have nothing to blame but the way we played," Greece captain Angelos Basinas said. "We still have no points. ... We'll play an open game against the Spaniards and hopefully we'll get something."
Responding to the opening defeat to Sweden, coach Otto Rehhagel played three strikers in an offensive lineup on Saturday and the entire team pushed forward. But the Greeks rarely threatened Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeyev, and after a strong start the aging side lost pace midway through the first half.
The Russians scored in the 33rd minute with Konstantin Zyryanov punishing a goalkeeping error by Antonis Nikopolidis. "They were very fast. It was very impressive how fast they played," Rehhagel said. "It was a very intense game, with both sides pushing hard. What I liked (though) was the passion we showed against a good Russian team."
The German coach stunned the continent at Euro 2004, when his team of no international stars eliminated defending champion France, the highly rated Czech Republic, and then host Portugal in the final.
Greece failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup but easily reached the tournament in Austria and Switzerland with 10 wins from 12 games. But Russia was the only team that beat the Greeks four years ago and repeated the trick this time around. Rehhagel's defensive tactics backfired just as spectacularly as they worked in Portugal, with the Greeks having lost the element of surprise. Rehhagel also admitted his pool of players lacked the quality to take on Europe's elite. The veterans were too slow, and younger players too inexperienced.
"Unfortunately _ and this is not new - we don't score goals," the 69-year-old German said. "We got to the tournament but wanted a better result. I knew we wouldn't waltz through this - we're not that good. "
Greece has yet to score a goal at Euro 2008, the only team yet to do so.
Playmaker Giorgos Karagounis, who came on as a first-half substitute, said Greece had run out of luck.
"It's not the best thing to lose two games," he said. "Today, we proved that we can play good football. ... But to have success in this tournament you must also have luck. We did not have that." Striker Nikos Lymberopoulos said his teammates should not be disappointed with their elimination.
"We should be proud that we made it here, even though we got knocked out," Lymberopoulos said. "We played hard and will still put up a fight against Spain.
"We must hold our heads high."
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