Euro 2012: Dramatic Finale As Russia & Poland Exit

Group A of Euro 2012 came to a thrilling close last night as the Czech Republic and Greece clinched qualification to the knockout stages in dramatic fashion.

Group A of Euro 2012 came to a thrilling close last night as the Czech Republic and Greece clinched qualification to the knockout stages in dramatic fashion. Group favourites Russia were stunned by the Greeks who hit them on the counter-attack and exploited a defensive error to pull ahead in the dying minutes of the first half. The Greeks then showed resilience in the second half to hold on to their lead and were desperately unlucky not to get a penalty when captain Giorgios Karagounis was blatantly fouled inside the penalty area. The efforts of promising youngster Alan Dzagoev were not enough to salvage the point needed for his country to stay in the tournament; he watched his 83rd minute header sail just wide of the Greek goal. The full time whistle was greeted with scenes of jubilation by the Greek players and supporters, both overjoyed and surprised by this unlikeliest of victories. Meanwhile in Wroclaw, the Czech Republic's national team showed considerable spirit and defensive discipline to withstand an early onslaught by a Polish team needing a win to qualify. Star striker Robert Lewandowski missed a huge chance early on with his effort hitting the side netting. Borussia Dortmund duo Piszczek and Blaszczykowski posed a constant threat on the right side while Ludovic Obraniak's quality free kicks provided some heart-stopping moments for the Czech supporters. It seemed a matter of time before Poland's efforts would result in a goal; however the Czechs were able to hold on to a clean sheet going into the half-time break. As the teams went in for half-time however, the news broke that Greece had scored in Warsaw, which meant that both teams needed a win in order to qualify. This renewed motivation sparked the Czechs into action in the second half and put them on the front foot with Poland sitting deep in their own half. The Czechs exploited the pace of man-of-the-match Vaclav Pilar on the left wing to craft some rapid counter attacks, with Petr Jiracek also looking dangerous on the right side of midfield. The breakthrough eventually came from a counter attack after defending a Polish corner; Milan Baros took Hubschmann's pass in his stride and set up Petr Jiracek, who took his chance with a composed finish past Polish keeper Tyton. The Czechs still needed to hold on for 20 minutes, and did successfully thanks to some goal-line heroics by Michal Kadlec. The masses of travelling fans were ecstatic on the final whistle as the Czechs went through as group winners and now face a quarter-final clash with the runners up from the 'Group of Death'; while Greece will face the winners from that group. It was another eventful night in which the European Championships showed why some consider them to be the best tournament in the world; and we were treated yet again to a prime example of the sheer unpredictability of the beautiful game.
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