Greece have defied the odds to reach the quarterfinals of EURO 2012 when many expected them to finish bottom of Group A. Following a 1-1 opening draw with co-hosts, Poland, the Greeks narrowly lost out 2-1 to the Czech Republic before a historic 1-0 win over Russia saw them finish 2ndin Group A with 4 points, as Germany now await them.
A truly remarkable display as the Greeks were not only spirited and displayed a defensive master class, but they were clinical too, no matter the minimal amount of chances they produced. As for Russia, they may have deserved to go through, but goals win you games and Greece scored more than Russia and so, deserved to win. Let’s take a closer look at their performances so far and how they reached the quarterfinal stage.
Greece 1-1 Poland
Greece were dominated in the opening proceedings and soon went a goal behind through a Robert Lewandowski header in the 17th minute. Things got worse for Greece as Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off for a harsh second yellow card in the 44th minute leaving Greece down to 10 men for the rest of the game.
Fernando Santos made a positive change at halftime, bringing on attacker, Dimitris Salpingidis on for the highly rated but ineffective Sotiris Ninis – and it paid dividends. The PAOK man was a key figure in the second half, scoring Greece’s equalizer after a mix-up with Poland keeper, Wojciech Szczesny and defender Marcin Wasilewski, which instilled hope in the Greece side while completely shattering the co-hosts’ confidence. Salpingidis was then through on goal and was brought down by Szczesny in the 69thminute, earning the Arsenal man a red card while Greece were awarded a penalty – Captain, Giorgos Karagounis, however missed as the Greeks blew the chance to go ahead as the game ended in a stale mate with both teams finishing the game with 10 men. It was a good point for Greece nonetheless, given the circumstances at halftime.
Salpingidis was the key man – a 100% pass success, a goal and won a penalty; not bad for an impact sub, as his pace and work rate exploited the Polish defense. Karagounis also played a key role as he made things tick in midfield completing 41 of his attempted 47 passes whilst also winning 6 fouls for his team.
Greece were brilliant defensively too, winning 14/17 tackles (6/7 when they were down to 10 men,) making 20 interceptions, and blocking 4 shots and for all of Poland’s chances, Greece were simply more clinical when they posed an attacking threat – 17% of Poland’s 17 attempts were on target while 25% of Greece’s 8 attempts were on target, though both teams only scored the solitary goal.
Greece soaked up the pressure and countered for majority of the game – a tactic (Chelsea-like) which worked much until after Szczesny’s red card where the game became more open.
Czech Republic 2-1 Greece
Greece were exposed early on as they conceded 2 goals in the opening 6 minutes – goals which could have been avoided had goalkeeper, Kostas Chalkias done a better job anticipating them. The start to the game was reminiscent of the Poland game with a lot of chances created, however the Czech Republic soon took their foot off the gas while Greece were gaining momentum, which ultimately paid off. Substitute, Theofanis Gekas bundled home after a calamitous error by Czech keeper, Petr Cech and Greece had a lifeline in the 53rd minute and the game was taken to the Czechs from then on, although Greece failed to find an equalizer.
A loss maybe, but once again Greece showed their defensive masterclass, winning 12/14 tackles, making 17 interceptions and blocking 1 shot. However, they weren’t as clinical as their counterpart, with only 16% of their 6 attempts on target while 30% of the Czech’s 9 attempts were on target.
Karagounis although, once again had a solid game, winning 6 fouls, making 3 interceptions and lastly, completing 56 of his attempted 66 passes while also completing 10 out of an attempted 15 passes in the attacking third.
Russia 0-1 Greece
This was the decider. A win, and Greece would be through to the quarterfinals. Russia completely dominated the game with a bulk of goal-scoring opportunities but just couldn’t find the back of the net – then at the stroke of halftime, Karagounis, much against the run of play, capitalized on a Russian loss of possession, steering the ball home in the bottom corner. The stadium erupted; 45 minutes more and Greece would do what many had predicted they wouldn’t – get through the group stages. Russia kept knocking on the door throughout the second half but just couldn’t get in as the final whistle blew. Greece were in the quarterfinals.
The previous two games for Greece were pretty evenly contested duels, but Russia completely bossed this game, with a mammoth 69% possession and 31 shots attempted at goal. Once again, Greece had their defense to thank who soaked up the pressure, winning 13/18 tackles, making a massive 28 interceptions and blocking 12 Russian shots. When the Greeks were through on goal, they took their chances unlike their opponents, with 25% of their attempted 8 shots on target while the Russians only managed a meager 6% of their 31 shots on target.
Karagounis got the headlines for his winning goal but Konstantinos Katsouranis was also a key figure in this game – the midfielder made 6 interceptions, 2 tackles, completed 2 clearances and blocked 1 shot while making the most passes for Greece with 32, completing 24 of them successfully.
With Group A’s games now officially over, Greece will look to their tactical defensive display as a reason for their progression – soaking in the pressure from the opposition, while attacking on the break clinically to ensure the job gets done. While many will dub it as negative football, it’s not like Greece were defending the full 90 as they had their fair share of chances and treated the footballing world to an entertaining opening EURO 2012 game as well. The tactic used may be tough to watch, especially considering the similarity of it to Chelsea’s victory in the Champions League, but it is very effective and Greece have importantly been clinical in front of goal.
In their 3 games at EURO 2012 so far, Greece attempted only 22 shots with 6 on target, resulting in 3 goals – which means 27% of Greece’s shots were on target and that 50% of Greece’s shots on target resulted in goals. If we compare this to the other teams in Group A when they faced Greece, their combined grand total of shots were 57 shots with only 8 on target – which means 14% of their shots vs Greece were on target and only 38% of their shots on target vs Greece resulted in goals. Greece were simply more clinical when it mattered.
They now face one of the tournament favourites in Germany in the quarterfinals – can they pull off another upset? It will be tough, especially as their leader, Karagounis will be suspended for the game but with their defensive strategy, anything is possible.
“Goals win you games, defense wins you championships.”
Greece will be abiding by this famous cliché as they look to repeat the feat of 2004, hoping they win EURO 2012. Their displays so far weren’t flukes but the result of hard work, spirit, passion, defensive brilliance and being clinical in front of goal. With some more luck (which they’ve been lacking so far this tournament and still getting results), who knows? They may win the whole thing, shedding light on a troubled nation.