The two teams that showed top form in Group A at the start of the Euro 2012 are going home; the two teams that struggled in the beginning are both moving on.
In a swift reversal of fortune the likes of which we only see in WWE, the Czech Republic and Greece became the first two teams to advance to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012, thanks to 1-0 wins over Poland and Russia, respectively.
Dominated by Russia in the opener, 4-1, the Czechs rebounded with a 2-1 win over Greece before securing a place in the final eight with a 1-0 win over the crestfallen co-hosts of the tournament.
The winning goal was supplied by midfielder Petr Jiracek in the 72nd minute when the team capitalized on a counterattack to push Poland on the brink of elimination. Needing to win the game outright to advance, the Polish squandered opportunity after opportunity, struggling to score despite a load of chances that never came to fruition.
As the match came to a conclusion, Czech layers whooped it up in the field ilke it was St. Paddy’s Day while the dejected Polish players were left lying on the pitch, stunned at the realization that their tournament ended before it even began.
The other Group A match completely turned the tournament upside its head when Greece scored a shocking 1-0 upset of group favorites Russia to secure their spot in the final 8. With Russia only needing a draw to advance, the tables turned quickly after the Czech Republic won against Poland, overtaking the Russians in the top of the table.
Then, Greece’s Giorgos Karagounis sent his team ahead just before halftime. It became more evident for the Russians that they had to play the best half of their lives in order to advance.
And so they did, although to no avail.
In the second half, the Russians put on a relentless attack against the Greeks, but the 2004 Euro champs remained steadfast in their defensive commitment, repelling wave after wave of shots – Russia had 25 shots (10 on goal) compared to Greece’s 5 (2 on goal – none more crucial than their staunch defense that caused Alan Dzagoev’s glancing header off of an Andrei Arshavin cross that sailed inches beyond the post.
The loss left the Russians, the pre-tournament favorites to come out on top of Group A, and their fans stunned beyond disbelief. After a dominating opening match against Croatia that showed true promise of a deep run, the Russians lost a match where they only needed to draw to advance.
In the toughest of eliminations, this one was well and true a punch to the gut.