Greece and the Czech Republic advanced from Group A of the 2012 European Championships on Saturday. They are good representatives of the unfancied group. It is Group B that is called the “Group of Death.” Group A, said one BBC soccer correspondent before the tournament, is more like the “Group of Dearth.”
That statement fits Greece. It is the European soccer equivalent of an Adam Sandler movie: Tedious, predictable yet sometimes successful.
Greece advanced as runners-up with a 1-0 victory over Russia. Giorgos Karagounis scoring the winning goal with the last kick of the first half. Karagounis later received a yellow card, which means he will miss the quarterfinal game against the winner of Group B.
He is one of two holdovers from the team that won Euro 2004 — the other is midfielder Kostas Katsouranis.
And Karagounis’s verve and borderline anger will be missed; his countenance on the field is of someone who has just been told he is to spend his week’s vacation with the in-laws.
Russia, meantime, played very poorly. The UEFA web site said Russia took 25 shots; the excellent FourFourTwo stats app, in combination with Opta, said Russia took 32.
Either way, it scored on none. And Russia is out of the tournament despite having scored more goals than anyone else in Group A and also having a better goal differential than anyone in Group A. The tie-breaker in the UEFA Euro Championships is head-to-head, which means Greece advances and Russia does not.
Russia’s exit means there will be no more sightings of the excellent “This Is Russia” flag that was unveiled among the fans during the national anthems before a 1-1 draw with Poland earlier in the week. The flag was enormous — it took up at least a dozen rows of seats in the upper deck, then draped onto the lower deck. The flag had a solder with a sword and shield; it looked like something from the cover of a 1980s Ronnie James Dio album.
Incredibly, despite the flag’s enormous size, at least one report said it was smuggled into the stadium.
In the other Group A game, the Czech Republic advanced with a 1-0 victory over co-host Poland. Petr Jiracek scored the winning goal as the Czech Republic won the group; they will face the runner-up in Group B.
Jiracek, who plays for Wolfsburg in Germany, scored his second goal of the tournament — he also scored against Greece.
Poland, meantime, exits having scored just two goals in the tournament.
For the Czech Republic, captain and playmaker Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal was sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury.