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Russia, Poland exit Euro 2012 after dramatic Group A finale

Posted by arnon_k On June - 17 - 2012

(CNN) — The highly-fancied Russia team and co-hosts Poland crashed out of Euro 2012 on Saturday as the Czech Republic and Greece became the first nations to secure quarterfinal berths.

Russia led Group A going into the third and final round of matches, needing just a draw against Greece to progress into the last eight.

However, a superb strike from veteran Greece captain Giorgis Karagounis just before halftime proved enough to send Dick Advocaat’s side home.

“When we left Greece, we all said, ‘We will give everything when our compatriots aren’t having the best of times,’ said Karagounis, referring to Greece’s economic problems.

“I believe that this tonight puts a smile on their faces. We’re happy we managed to do this for Greece, for our country, for Greeks all over the world.”
The Russians had a better goal difference than the Greeks, who won the tournament in a huge shock in 2004, but went out on head-to-head record.

Poland needed to win to go through, but a 72nd-minute strike from Petr Jiracek sent the Czechs top of the table and facing a quarterfinal against the runner-up from Group B — which will be decided on Sunday.

Greece 1-0 Russia

Karagounis experienced the high of sending his country through to the knockout stage of a major tournament for the first time in eight years, but the 35-year-old may not get the chance to break his country’s appearance record at Euro 2012.

The midfielder will miss the quarterfinal after receiving his second yellow card of the group stages, having been controversially booked for diving when it appeared that he had been fouled in the penalty area in the second half.

With Greece leading 1-0, a second goal would have killed off Russia’s hopes — but instead a furious Karagounis missed a nailbiting climax to the match after demanding to be substituted before he was sent off for further remonstrating with Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson.

Karagounis, who matched 2004 captain Theodoros Zagorakis’ mark of 120 caps for Greece, repeated his act of scoring at the European Championship, having done so in the opening match against Portugal eight years ago.

He surged through the Russian defense after Sergei Ignashevich failed to deal with a throw-in and fired a low shot past goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev in time added on at the end of the first half.

Giorgos Tzavellas almost made it 2-0 with 20 minutes to play, but his curling left-foot free kick bounced to safety off the post.

After that it was all Russia, but Igor Denisov was twice denied by goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis.

It marked a disappointing end to the two-year reign of Advocaat, who will now return to his homeland with a post at Dutch club PSV Eindhoven.
“The other team just defended. With all due respect, it was hard to play against them. But it’s not that we didn’t play well,” Advocaat said.

“We were undefeated for 16 games but we didn’t win today. That’s football. All compliments to Greece.”

Czech Republic 1-0 Poland

Poland had high hopes of making the most of home advantage in Wroclaw, but could not beat a Czech team that bounced back from their opening 4-1 crushing by Russia to top the group with six points.

Jiracek followed up his opening goal from the 2-1 win over Poland with another vital strike.

The 26-year-old midfielder, who plays for German club Wolfsburg, cut inside to beat goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton after being fed by veteran striker Milan Baros on the counter attack following good work by Tomas Hubschman.

Poland poured forward in search of an equalizer, which by itself would not have been enough, but Michal Kadlec cleared a late effort off the line.

“We started badly and let the occasion get to us a little bit, the home side capitalized on our mistakes,” Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech said.

“But with time we got better, we created chances and then scored a deserved goal.”

The Czechs will next go to Warsaw on June 21, where their opponents will likely be Portugal, Denmark or Holland. The Greeks are likely to face unbeaten Germany in Gdansk.

Poland coach Franciszek Smuda is now expected to be replaced, as his contract has ended.

“We know we had the chance to win but they (the Czech) played excellent football and they scored a goal,” he told reporters.

“We had several opportunities in the first half but we didn’t take our chances.”

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