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Euro 2012: Group A - Czech Republic and Greece advance, Russia collapse
Another strong performance from a rejuvenated Czech Republic side led them to tight 1-0 win over Poland, knocking not only the co-hosts from the tournament but also giving them top spot in Group A. While Greece claimed second, thanks to a surprising 1-0 victory over the heavily favoured Russians, in what was a stunning turn of events at Euro 2012.
Edmonton - June 16, 2012 - Heading into the final pair of games in Group A, it seemed highly unlikely for Russia to not find their way through to the knockout stages of Euro 2012. Thanks to another strong performance from a rejuvenated Czech Republic side and a determined effort from what had been a rather disappointing Greece squad, that is exactly what happened. The Czechs 1-0 win over Poland not only knocked the co-hosts from the tournament but also left them the winners of Group A. While the Greek's surprising 1-0 victory sent home the group favourites, in what was a stunning turn of events.
In a half where Poland was by far and away the aggressor of the two teams, they were unable to get an early one behind Petr Cech. While the Czech Republic needed a draw to get through to the knockout stages, the co-hosts were in desperate need of the full three points. After generating a few opportunities early, the Polish were unable to find the target with those chances.
While over in Warsaw, a defensive blunder from Sergei Ignashevich left Giorgos Karagounis a free lane to attack the Russian goal and the Greek captain made no mistake, powering a shot through goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev and giving Greece a shocking 1-0 lead. The late marker came in the second minute of extra time and put a whole new spin on the possibilities of which teams could be advancing from the group stages.
Greece looked to have earned a chance of adding to their lead, when Karagounis was pulled down inside the Russian area just past the hour mark. Astonishingly, the referee did not award a penalty but pulled out a yellow card, for the game's lone goal scorer, for embellishment. What looked to be a questionable non-call, was made far worse by the unnecessary booking.
Over in Wroclaw, the Polish were well aware of their need for a result to have any hope of advancing, it would be the Czechs who were the better side to start the second half and were rewarded with the all important first goal. After an ill timed and unnecessary turnover by Rafal Murawski, in the middle of the pitch, the switch in play led directly to a counterattack from Milan Baros that ended with the ball on the foot of Petr Jiracek. The Wolfsburg man took one quick step before sliding a perfect shot underneath a desperately sliding Murawski and past the outstretched arms of Przemyslaw Tyton. The Czechs had definitely ruined the party and stunned the locals into a state of shock.
That goal not only put Poland on the verge of being knocked out of Euro 2012 but a Czech Republic win coupled with a victory from Greece, would also put the previous Group A leaders out of the competition. No one would have predicted the Russians as being one of the two sides heading home after two games but their uninspiring performance in their final match, left them with a much deserved outcome.
After being drilled in their opening match against Russia, many considered the Czechs to have little chance of moving competing the rest of the way. To their credit, they not only came back but won the group and will now face the second place team from Group B in the quarterfinals. Leaving the surprising Greece a likely knockout stage date with Germany.