Everything that was predicted in this group got turned up side down. Russia, the best team through the first two matches lost to Greece 0-1, and while safe as long as there was a draw between Poland and the Czech Republic, Petr Jiracek sent the Czechs into the next stage along with Greece as the first quarter-finalists in Euro 2012.
Greece 1 Russia 0
All Russia needed was a draw, but they did play to score in the first half. But Greece are a team that can’t be counted out, never. Giorgos Karagounis, one of the last relics from the 2004 championship team, scored in the last second of the first half to send the Greeks into the first place in the group. Meanwhile, half time in Wroclaw meant that Russia were joining them.
But as the Russian were unsuccessful in their attempts to find a way through the defending Greeks, news came of the Czech Republic taking the lead, meaning Russia were out. Advocaat threw in Pavlyuchenko and Pogrebnyak and Izmailov, but despite their 31 attempts with only two shots actually reaching the goal, Russia were just too flat, too panicky and too disorganized in the match that mattered the most.
Czech Republic 1 Poland 0
The Czechs didn’t really come out to give it all on the pitch for the first 45 minutes, but so didn’t the Polish side, who needed the win more, trying not to become the fourth host nation to miss the cut after the group stage. But there was no urgency shown, and nothing more than the usual attempts of constantly finding Lewandowski. Without speed, the Czechs had enough to handle it.
But then came Petr Jiracek, who’s enthusiasm in the opening moments against Greece were enough to lift the Czechs to their first win in the tournament. It was another energetic run from him that paved the way for the winning goal, that gave his side the first place ticket into the final eight, while Poland found it too hard to even create a chance in their uphill battle to somehow salvage something.
Final Group A Table
1. Czech Republic, 6 Points (4-5)
2. Greece, 4 Points (3-3)
3. Russia, 4 Points (5-3)
4. Poland, 2 Points (2-3)
1. Alan Dzagoev (Russia), Mario Gomez (Germany), Mario Mandzukic (Croatia) – 3 Goals
2. Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine), Vaclav Pilar (Czech Republic), Nicklas Bendtner (Denmark), Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres (Spain), Petr Jiracek (Czech Republic) – 2 Goals
3. Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Dimitris Salpigidis (Greece), Roman Shirokov, Roman Pavlyuchenko (Russia), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Denmark), Antonio Di Natale (Italy), Nikica Jelavic (Croatia), Sean St Ledger (Ireland), Joleon Lescott (England), Samir Nasri (France), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), Theofanis Gekas (Greece), Jakub Blaszczykowski (Poland), Pepe, Helder Postiga, Silvestre Varela (Portugal), Robin van Persie (Netherlands), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Davis Silva (Spain), Jeremy Menez, Yohan Cabaye (France), Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck (England), Olof Mellberg (Sweden), Giorgos Karagounis (Greece) – 1 Goal
What We’ve Learned
Greece – Never underestimate this team, and never underestimate Karagounis, who still has heart and football in his legs despite all the years that have passed. Nothing clever, nothing flashy, and not even something special on defense. They seemed to enjoy a bit of luck through this group stage, enjoying being overlooked by everyone.
Russia – Started out with a bang, shining brighter than everyone else. Instead of sealing the deal against Poland wound up in a needless match for qualification against Greece, which they didn’t finish when they had the chances early on. In hindsight, might have come into the two matches after their impressive opening a tad arrogant.
Czech Republic – Like Greece, nothing special. They’ve got a decent midfield and a good goalkeeper, not much else. But against a dull Polish team that keeps repeating the same thing over and over again, it was enough to secure the top spot in Group A.
Poland – The disappointment of this group, because Russia did give us some good football for three halves. Poland looked at their worst in the final match, without the energy you would expect from a home team in front of very supportive fans. Their lack of a plan B and depth in the attacking positions was too much to overcome in the end.
Portugal vs Netherlands – The Dutch still have a chance of making it through, sending them to meet a rather comfortable Czech team which should be everyone’s desire to face in the next stage, but a win might not be enough. Last time the two teams met in a finals tournament it turned out to be the ‘Battle of Nuremberg‘.
Denmark vs Germany – What chances do Denmark have, really? Well, they did surprise the Dutch, but apparently beating the Netherlands isn’t the hardest thing in the world these days. Hard to see Germany not winning this, but only if they don’t underestimate their opponents and play aggressively from the start instead of playing for the draw they need to finish first.