The Greek soccer team produced a 1-0 upset to give their countrymen a boost and send home the highly favored Russians early from Euro 2012. The Czechs bounced co-hosts Poland from the tournament.
The final two matches in Group A on Saturday night were by no means pretty affairs, but the evening did provide a major upset that must have had many a Greek fan sharing the ouzo and their Russian counterparts crying into their vodka.
All four teams went into their final matches in Group A knowing that a win could put them through to the quarter-finals.
Russia came into the night at the top of the group, knowing that a draw or better would be enough to get them into the knock-out stage. Both Greece and Poland needed a win to advance.
Poland pushing early
Knowing that they needed the full three points, Poland began the match in Wroclaw brightly, attempting to apply pressure on the Czech goal from the get-go.
Between the Czech sticks, goalkeeper Petr Cech was forced into a couple of tricky saves, while Polish fans saw their cheers cut short as the ball twice hit the side netting in the first 20 minutes of the match.
Given their position, second in the group going into the match, the Czech Republic were far less offensive, knowing they could likely go through on the strength of a draw. However they did retain a slight advantage in possession throughout the half, which ended in a scoreless draw.
The best chance of the half came in the 10th minute when Borussia Dortmund's young star Robert Lewandowski broke into the box with the ball but failed to punish the Czechs for having coughed up possession. He blasted a left-footed shot wide.
Captain comes to Greeks' rescue
In Warsaw, meanwhile, it was Greece who were forced to try to go on the offensive against the technically superior Russians. Like Poland, the Greeks too started the match more brightly.
For the full 45 minutes it appeared as if they would come up empty for their efforts, but two minutes into injury time, Greek captain Giorgos Karagounis slipped the shoddy marking of Yuri Zhirkov and blasted it past goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev and into the back of the net.
The half-time whistle followed just seconds later, sending the two teams into the break with Greece in the lead 1-0.
Jiracek strikes on the break
As the two teams returned to the pitch in Wroclaw, Poland, raucous home fans still harbored realistic hopes of getting that one goal that might be enough to stamp their ticket to the quarter-finals.
In the 72nd minute though, the mountain they were hoping to climb became much higher, as Wolfsburg midfielder Petr Jiracek cut into the box and wrong footed the defender by cutting the ball to his right foot before stroking the ball into the bottom right corner of the Polish net. Poland had begun committing forward in numbers and the Czech goal came on the counterattack - against an understaffed Polish back line.
Jiracek now has two goals at Euro 2012, equaling his production in 13 matches in the Bundesliga season just past.
In the remaining 20 or so minutes neither Poland, nor Russia would manage to penetrate the defenses of their respective opponents.
While the highly favored Russians under Dutch coach Dick Advocaat in particular appeared to be in shock in the minutes that followed the final whistles, both the Czechs and the Greeks poured off their benches to celebrate their success.
The Czech Republic, which finished first in the group, wouldn't have been that surprised at their success in advancing to the knockout stage.
Greece still in the Euros
For the Greeks though, it was not just a major sporting achievement, but a taste of success that must have lifted the spirits of an entire nation. For a few hours, a country that has long been struggling under the weight of recession and harsh austerity measures, had a rare cause to celebrate.
Reality returns with a vengeance on Sunday morning, when Greeks go to the polls in their second parliamentary election in a matter of weeks - an election that could have consequences for the entire eurozone and beyond.
Author: Chuck Penfold
Editor: Mark Hallam