Greece pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory over hot favourites Russia in Group A on Saturday. The result meant Greece qualified ahead of Russia based on their head-to-head result, rather than the traditional method using goal difference (Russia would’ve qualified if this was used). Russia will only have themselves to blame for their exit though.
After a bright opening 10 minutes from Greece, Russia slowly took hold of the game and began to dominate their opponents. Slow starts have been a feature of all three of Russia’s matches in Group A, and they were somewhat fortunate not to concede an early goal against Greece.
The pattern of the game developed reasonably quickly though, with Greece seemingly comfortable getting men behind the ball and defending deeply as a team. This was a game they needed to win to stand any chance of qualifying though, so their tactics were somewhat surprising.
That said, Greece struck the only goal of the game just before half time. The ‘assist’ must surely come from Russia’s Zhirkov after he headed the ball inexplicably into the path of Greece’s captain, Karagounis. Russia were unable to cover the mistake quickly enough, leaving Karagounis free to aim a low, powerful shot past Malafeev.
On the rare occasions when Russia played with width they looked dangerous. In the first half, Zhhirkov burst down the left and was able to reach the byline, pulling the ball back towards the penalty spot. Unfortunately for Russia, Papastathopoulos was able to clear the danger, but it was one of the few times when Greece looked stretched.
Russia: Igor Denisov
In the central midfield, Denisov did all he could to get the Russians going, just as he had in the previous two games. Often the instigator of Russia’s build-up play, Denisov probed all night long and produced some exemplary passing stats:
Following the break, Greece continued with their defensive tactics, sitting even deeper and narrower than in the first half. Their cause was helped by Russia’s own tactics of playing predominantly through the middle. This made it easier for Greece to soak up the pressure without getting stretched across the pitch. Nevertheless, the Greek defence was kept busy all evening, and to be fair to them, they defended really well:
For all of Russia’s dominance, it was actually Greece who created the better chances in the second half. They were unlucky not to win a penalty when Karagounis was clearly trip aped in the penalty area. Instead the referee booked him for diving, meaning he’ll miss the quarter finals. They also struck the woodwork direct from a free-kick. As the second half wore on, Russia were committing more and more men forward, leaving big gaps in midfield and defence for Greece to exploit.
Greece frustrated the Russians enough to restrict them to mostly long shots. The stats below shows how wild and wayward most of Russia’s 31 shots were against the Greeks compared to their game last week against the Czech Republic:
Russia lacked the creativity and guile to open up the Greek defence, and paid the ultimate price. The Russian coach, Dick Advocaat, never appeared to have plan B as Russia became increasingly desperate for an equaliser. Credit to the Greeks though – they defended manfully to record what most people would view as a shock result.
All Euro 2012 Stats courtesy of the FourFourTwo StatsZone iPhone App.