SPORTS

Greece beats Russia 1-0 to reach last eight

Greece beat Russia 1-0 against all odds on Saturday to secure a triumphant passage to the last eight of the European Championship in Poland thanks to a beautiful strike by captain Giorgos Karagounis in first-half injury time.

The composed and collective performance Greece produced just when it needed it the most saw it finish runners up in the group with four points, two behind the Czech Republic and level on points with the Russians who crashed out.

The Blues owe a lot to Giorgos Samaras who played a spectacular game, not just in attacking but also in defending, while Yiannis Maniatis was also remarkable as a defensive midfielder.

The national team tried to surprise the Russians with a series of attack in the first 10-15 minutes, one of which nearly found the target as Costas Katsouranis?s clever flick was denied by Russia keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.

Yet as the first half went on, the game took its natural course, with the Russians enjoying more possession and trying some clever ideas in attack that Greek fans ? the minority at the stands ? were happy to see go to waste. Throughout the game Russia had 25 final efforts against Greece’s five.

The Blues only had Samaras trying to ask some questions in the Russian defense, before injury time started.

It was the second minute of time added on when Karagounis nicked the ball on the right of the Greek attack, marched into the box and unleashed a fearsome right-foot shot that beat Malafeev to find the opposite side of the net. This was the first goal Greece had scored in the first half of a game in the Euro 2012 finals.

Greece was unlucky to see the ball come off the upright in the 70th minute when Giorgos Tzavellas took a freekick in excellent fashion as the Russians had not placed their wall correctly.

The Russians?s best chance went begging a few minutes later as an Alan Dzagoev header sailed just wide of the Michalis Sifakis right post.

Karagounis will also remember this match as he has just completed 120 caps, equaling the national record that Theo Zagorakis has. However he will not feature in the quarterfinal as he was booked for a second time in the group stage.

Greeks have few reasons to feel national pride these days, but sports has been giving them plenty even in the toughest of times. This unlikely win against the group?s favorite in Warsaw confirmed that Greece deserves respect as a team and as a people in general. ?Had the referees been right we would have had seven points,? said Karagounis after the match.