Giorgos Karagounis put Greece into the European Championship quarterfinals Saturday, scoring just before halftime to give the 2004 European champions a 1-0 victory over Russia.
Karagounis, in his record-tying 120th international appearance, sent a low shot under Russia goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev with the final touch of the first half. The Greeks then did what they do best: defend.
The Greeks, the 2004 European champions, then did what they do best: defend.
”The moments are pure magic for all of us. This is a great night for all Greeks,” Karagounis said. ”I cannot describe how I feel. It’s so great.”
Even as the Greeks closed down in front of their net, Karagounis looked to have won a penalty kick when Sergei Ignashevich appeared to bring him down in the area. But Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson instead booked the Greece captain for a dive, meaning he will miss the quarterfinals.
”We are proud that we gave the people back home some joy and a break from their problems – even for a short while,” Greece striker Georgios Samaras said. ”We did very well defensively, but the will we had was the main thing. That stopped them from scoring goals.”
Even as the Greeks closed down at the back, Karagounis thought he won a penalty when he made contact with Sergei Ignashevich in the area, but Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson instead booked the Greece captain for a dive, meaning he will miss the quarterfinals.
Russia had been the overwhelming favorite going into the match at the National Stadium, but it was again guilty of squandering chances.
The Russians became one of the tournament favorites with their 4-1 win over the Czech Republic in their opening match, but then drew with Poland and finally lost to Greece, snapping a 16-match unbeaten run.
”What I’m feeling is overwhelming. I think we did deserve more, but it didn’t happen,” Malafeev said. ”To concede that goal just before halftime was an awful feeling.”
Russian players dejectedly tramped off the field immediately after the final whistle, while Greece’s euphoric players hugged one another and then celebrated with fans.
Giorgos Tzavelas also nearly gave Greece a two-goal cushion when he curled the free kick over the Russian wall in the 70th minute but saw the ball slam against the top of the post.
Michalis Sifakis then ensured his team would advance when he saved a close-range shot by substitute Pavel Pogrebnyak in second-half injury time.
Russia came close several times in the first half, but even as the team laid siege to the Greek goal it was largely restricted to long-range efforts after the break as it went after the equalizer.
Russia forward Alan Dzagoyev came close in the 84th minute with a glancing header off a cross from Andrei Arshavin, but the ball drifted just wide.
Greece, knowing it needed a win to progress after a draw and a loss in its first two Euro 2012 matches, started the match with a defensive set up aimed at stifling Russia’s passing game in the midfield. Russia only needed a draw to reach the quarterfinals.
As the minutes drew down, the Greek fans sang the national anthem and the Russians lit of flares and walked out of the stadium.
Russia: Vyacheslav Malafeev, Alexander Anyukov (Marat Izmailov, 81), Alexei Berezutski, Sergei Ignashevich, Yuri Zhirkov, Roman Shirokov, Igor Denisov, Denis Glushakov (Pavel Pogrebnyak, 72), Andrei Arshavin, Alexander Kerzhakov (Roman Pavlyuchenko, 46), Alan Dzagoyev.