WARSAW (Reuters) – Greece and the Czech Republic, written off after poor starts to Euro 2012, completed astonishing turnarounds on Saturday with 1-0 wins over Russia and co-hosts Poland to reach the quarter-finals against all the odds.
Greek captain Giorgos Karagounis scored in first-half stoppage time for the 2004 champions who had taken only one point from their first two games and were given almost no chance of beating the confident and impressive Russians.
Petr Jiracek turned party-pooper when his 72nd-minute goal silenced hundreds of thousands of Polish fans gathered in fanzones in Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw and Poznan, many of whom went home soaked after torrential downpours in the latter two venues.
Police and calculators were out in force as the final round of Group A matches got under way amid tensions between Russian fans and their Polish hosts and against the unhappy backdrop of another racism case.
Croatia became the first country to be charged over racism as UEFA’s disciplinary panel, which has been working overtime on a string of cases involving fireworks and missile-throwing by fans, opened proceedings for chants by their supporters against Italy.
Karagounis, winning his 120th cap, remembered the difficult situation back home after a game played on the eve of an election which could decide if Greece stays in the euro zone and spread turmoil across global financial markets.
“The moment is pure magic for all of us,” said Karagounis. “This night is very important, it is something important for Greece for all Greeks. We said we would give it all, despite all the difficulties.”
The Czechs finished top with six points, becoming the first team to win a group at the tournament with a negative goal difference, followed by Greece and Russia on four and Poland on two.