Greece at their best with backs to the wall

Greece, cornered and faced with an early exit from Euro 2012, came up with the goods on Saturday, beating odds-on Group A favourites Russia 1-0 and proving once again they perform best in the face of adversity.

There are comparisons with their stunning Euro 2004 triumph when the Greeks came into the tournament as rank outsiders to snatch the trophy in one of the biggest upsets in international football.

The will to win and succeed when everyone had ruled them out are the same but this time there is more to the story than just another upset.

"We managed to qualify despite everything, that is why the value of this qualification is great," said captain and scorer Giorgos Karagounis who will miss the quarter-final through suspension.

The Greeks came into the tournament undefeated in 10 qualifiers and having conceded just five goals. They had also lost only one match in their last 21 since the 2010 World Cup.

Yet it was their defence which let them down in the first two group games, a 1-1 draw with Poland and a 2-1 defeat by the Czech Republic with the backline in complete disarray at the start of each match.

Matters got even worse with central defender Avraam Papadopoulos injured in the first game and his partner Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off, leaving coach Fernando Santos with a makeshift backline against the Czechs.

They conceded two goals in the opening six minutes but reorganised and came close to clawing their way back for a draw as they had done against Poland.

GREEK WARNING

The warning signs were there for Russia but it seemed they were still gloating over their 4-1 win over the Czech Republic and a dazzling performance first-half display against Poland who fought back bravely to claim a 1-1 draw.

Russia coach Dick Advocaat even called them the best team in the tournament.

Santos went back to basics against the quickfire Russians, picking the team he arguably should have fielded from the start of the tournament.

Sokratis was back and formed a natural partnership with 20-year-old Kyriakos Papadopoulos, whose immense talent has made him a starting fixture at Bundesliga club Schalke 04 since he was 18.

Gutsy Giorgos Tzavellas was moved to the left with Vasilis Torosidis shutting out Russia's Andrei Arshavin on the other side, while erratic Jose Holebas, poor in both previous games, was relegated to the bench.

Strong and solid at the back, Santos also came up with an effective attacking gameplan as his team had to win to stay in the tournament, with both Fanis Gekas and Dimitris Salpingidis in the line-up.

The diminutive forward duo added pace and control while also working hard to break up Russian attacks at an early stage.

The Russians failed to penetrate often enough and resorted to long-range efforts midway through the first half.

Greece had five shots with two on target while their opponents fired a staggering 25 shots with 10 on goal but the majority of those were wild efforts from 25 metres or more out.

The Russians ultimately paid the price for thinking they were taking on a team who had come to the tournament to make up the numbers as they did in 2004.


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