Veteran Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis halted Russia’s Euro 2012 campaign in its tracks in Warsaw on Saturday, as the underdogs unexpectedly beat the Group A early pacesetters 1-0 to reach the last eight.
Seconds before the end of stoppage time in the first half, the 35-year-old midfielder latched onto a throw-in that Russian defender Sergei Ignashevich failed to deal with.
Dodging between the Russian rearguard, he fired a powerful low cross shot past goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.
The 4,000 Greek fans in Warsaw’s stadium, who up to then had largely been outsung by 20,000 Russians, went wild as Karagounis hit home to put his side through on the head-to-head rule — both sides ending on four points behind group winners the Czech Republic.
Greece, who drew 1-1 with tournament co-hosts Poland in their first match and then lost 2-1 to the Czechs, looked the hungrier side from the start and refused to play a walk-on part in Russia’s expected drive to the quarter-finals.
Russia had thrashed the Czech Republic 4-1 in their own opening match and then drawn 1-1 with Poland — but Greece derailed their campaign.
In allusion to the economic crisis buffeting his homeland, Karagounis, who was in Greece’s Euro 2004 winning squad, said his teammates had been determined to bring the fans some good cheer.
“When we left Greece, we all said: ‘We will give everything when our compatriots aren’t having the best of times.’ I believe that this tonight puts a smile on their faces,” Karagounis.
Russian coach Dick Advocaat said his team just could not break their rivals down.
“The other team just defended. With all due respect, it was hard to play against them, but it’s not that we didn’t play well,” he said. “We were undefeated for 16 games, but we didn’t win today. That’s football. All compliments to Greece.”
Karagounis fired an early corner to Kostas Katsouranis, and Dimitris Salpingidis bundled goalwards, only for Malafeev to save.
Salpingidis had been Greece’s hero of the night when, after coming on as a substitute, he equalized against Poland.
Three minutes later, Russian captain Andrey Arshavin crossed to rising star Alan Dzagoev, but he was beaten by Greek goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis.
Russia continued to show their strength as the half progressed, underlining the Greeks’ vulnerability to counterattacks. However, the Greek defense stood firm.
Then came Karagounis’s strike just seconds before Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson blew the halftime whistle.
Returning from the dressing room, both sides continued to display fighting spirit. Russia came within a whisker of equalizing in the 56th minute, but Igor Denisov was off-target.
There was gloom for Karagounis when he received a yellow card for being harshly adjudged to have dived in the box, meaning he will miss their quarter-final as he was also booked against the Czechs.
Greece’s Giorgos Tzavellas came close to putting them further ahead in the 69th minute, but hit the woodwork.
Five minutes later, Sifakis saved a shot from Igor Denisov, while Russia were again foiled in the 83rd minute when Dzagoev latched onto an Arshavin cross, but fired wide. With Eriksson adding four minutes’ stoppage time, a desperate Russia battled to save face, but Sifakis denied Denisov again on his line.