Euro 2008 – Russia topple holders Greece
Eurosport – Sat, 14 Jun 21:38:00 2008
Holders Greece were knocked out of Euro 2008 after a thrilling 1-0 defeat against Russia.
Champions in Portugal four years ago, Otto Rehhagel’s side cannot reach the quarter-finals whatever the result of their final Group D game against Spain, who have already qualified. Russia must beat Sweden in their final game to reach the last eight.
Konstantin Zyrianov’s first-half strike from close range proved decisive, although both sides missed numerous opportunities in an unexpectedly captivating encounter.
It was billed as a match between the two worst teams at Euro 2008, and a criminally dull way to spend two hours of Saturday night.
Instead, Greece and Russia put on one of the most entertaining matches of the tournament so far, particularly in a frantic second half in which both sides created – and spurned – a host of chances.
The holders finally came out of their ultra-defensive shell as Otto Rehhagel switched to an adventurous 3-4-3 formation – albeit too late to stay in the competition.
Russia played technically-excellent football, driven on by their wonderful left wing-back Yuri Zhirkov – constantly leaving gaps at the back on which their opponents could not capitalise.
Greece coach Otto Rehhagel scrapped his dreaded five-man and brought in Christos Patsatzoglou, Nikos Liberopoulos, and Yannis Amanatidis at the expense of Giorgios Karagounis, Paraskevas Antzas and Fanis Gekas
Clad all in red, Russia showed more initiative from the outset, particularly from left-back Yuri Zhirkov, who did a passable impression of Roberto Carlos with his penetrating runs and complete neglect of defensive duties.
It mattered little that Zhirkov spent the game in the opposition half; whenever Greece did attack it was through a long ball through the middle to Angelos Charisteas or from a set-piece.
The Greek hero at Euro 2004 was guilty of a shocking miss on 20 minutes when he was left unmarked for an inswinging Angelos Basinas free-kick, yet somehow failed to divert the ball in when a goal looked like the only possible outcome.
The vastly experienced Antonis Nikopolidis made an uncharacteristic error for the goal on 33 minutes.
He chased a deep cross from the left by Dmitri Torbinski but was beaten to the ball by Sergei Semak, who hooked it across the face of goal to present Zyrianov with a simple finish.
Greece were forced to attack, and the resultant change of attitude produced a second period of rip-roaring entertainment.
Charisteas kicked thing off with another glaring miss – this time lobbing tamely at Akinfeev after collecting a pass from substitute Giorgos Karagounis.
Both sides produced shots with greater frequency than accuracy – Roman Pavyluchenko and Karagounis produced 10 between them.
More to follow…