Hosts Poland leave the party early while Greeks summon the spirit of 2004
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
The final day of Euro 2012 Group A play saw the Czech Republic & Greece getting the job done to qualify for the knock-out stage of the tournament. Our Euro 2012 correspondent Adam Hurrey reports.
Last night saw Group A get turned on its head, as the Czech Republic and Greece edged out Russia and co-hosts Poland.
This group looked hard to call from the moment the draw was made and so it proved, with all four teams in with a chance of qualifying as they kicked off in Wroclaw and Warsaw. Whatever the labyrinthine permutations going in to the final game, all sides knew that a win would guarantee safe passage to the quarter-finals.
It was the Greeks, though, who struck the first blow. The 2004 champions stunned Russia, who had been dominating the first half, when Giorgos Karagounis fired them into the lead moments before half-time in Warsaw. Finally summoning the smash-and-grab spirit of eight years ago, Greece looked set to sneak into the quarters, but the Russians would still join them on goal difference as things stood.
Over in Wroclaw, Polish fans’ nerves were frayed. Several good chances came and went in the first half, but the vital breakthrough they needed still eluded them. With Greece going ahead in Warsaw, the Czech Republic now needed a goal of their own as the Group A drama unfolded. With eighteen minutes remaining, Petr Jiracek broke Polish hearts when he slotted past Przemyslaw Tyton to put the Czechs in the driving seat. Now the Russians faced elimination unless they could find a way past Michalis Sifakis in the Greek goal.
The final whistles blew in Wroclaw and Warsaw, confirming that Greece and the Czech Republic had scraped their way into the quarters. Poland, whose considerable spirit had not been matched by game-winning quality,will rue a host of missed chances while Dick Advocaat will wonder how qualification slipped through Russia’s grasp.
My Euro 2012 journey continues, however, as I leave Kiev to travel to Gdansk, on Poland’s Baltic coast. International tournaments provide a perfect excuse to travel to destinations such as the sprawling Ukrainian capital, a city I will never forget.
The ostentatious Metro stations, lying at almost absurd depths below the street surface, provided a swift and (at 16 pence a journey) cheap way of navigating the city. It takes a five-minute escalator ride to emerge from Arsenalna metro station, the reward for which is a stroll through the oasis of Mariyinsky Park to reach Kiev’s crown jewels – the gold domes of St Michael’s Monastery and the formidable, 102-metre Motherland monument.
In the Fan Zone and beyond, England fans were welcomed warmly, despite the usual scaremongering-by-numbers in the lead up to the tournament. The cheerful army of Swedes mingled with the English and Ukrainian supporters, in jovial scenes both before and after the game in the Olympic Stadium. The arena itself, despite the distance between the stands and the pitch, created an atmosphere befitting the drama that unfolded.
Next up for me is Spain v Croatia in the picturesque setting of the PGE Arena, Gdansk. A full match preview of the game, which Slaven Bilic's side must win to guarantee qualification, is on the way tomorrow.
Adam will be covering Euro 2012 for the BettingExpert blog with thanks to our friends at Betfair.
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Pundit highlight of the tournament so far for me - Dennis Wise on Sentanta Sports being asked how Greece managed to defeat Russia. "Well, they defended like Trojans." Brilliant. The look on Paul Dempsey's face was gold.