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Tournament football… bloody hell!

It can’t have escaped your attention that Greece’s unexpected 1-0 victory over Russia –  a result which took them through to the knockout stages – was played on the eve of the country’s general election – reckoned by many to be the most important in decades.

Prior to the tournament, captain Giorgos Karagounis spoke to World Soccer about the responsibility of representing Greece at a time of uncertainty when much of the country’s population was enduring untold economic hardship .

“We must commit ourselves to the team and its goals,” he said. “Even so, it will be an extra motivation for us to give joy to our compatriots during the tournament, to help them forget the problems of everyday life for a short time at least.”

That extra motivation was evident last night, not least in Karagounis’ performance which culminated in him scoring the only goal of the game. A fitting way to mark him becoming Greece’s joint record appearance holder.

Barring an unlikely sequence of results in tonight’s Group B games, Greece will face Germany in the quarter finals. Inevitable, the prospect of the two countries on opposing sides of the Euro coin coming face to face, has already prompted a flurry of debt-related puns.

If Twitter didn’t already exist it would surely have been necessary to invent it to disseminate the volume of Euro-related puns such a clash will unleash. For instance, this post from @Nndroid: “If Greece get Germany in the quarter-finals, will Angela Merkel try to tell the Greeks how many goals they have to concede?”

Russian roulette

While Greece confounded the sceptics, the big surprise of the night was Russia’s failure to emerge from a group most pundits had expected them to top. That defeat to Greece marked the final game for coach Dick Advocaat, and for one player his departure has not come a moment too soon.

“I don’t want to speak for the whole team. But I didn’t enjoy working with Advocaat,” Izmailov told Sport 1.

“I didn’t like him both as a person and as a coach,” he added. Nothing like sticking the knife in when a man can no longer defend himself.

Advocaat himself seemed relatively untroubled by the departure, claiming Russia didn’t deserve to be knocked out.

“We can look at everything negatively, but we played well against the Czech Republic and Poland, we played well today,” he told NOS.

“We totally outclassed Greece. We gave away the first goal and didn’t recuperate from that blow. They are masters at bleeding a match to death.”

Greece also scored, hit the woodwork and had a blatant penalty turned down, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of Advocaat’s diatribe.

“With the staff we worked very hard to have a good team,” he continued. “We were undefeated for 16 games but we didn’t win today. That’s football.”

Poles apart

No sooner had Poland been dumped out of the competition than the recriminations began.

Captain Jakub Blaszczykowski claimed the team’s preparations for the game were not helped by concerns over whether their families would get any tickets for Saturday’s game.

“The FA president says in interviews that he has a good relationship with the team,” he said. “I personally am not aware of that, because every time we establish something with him it completely is not held to. Many things are not done as they should be.”

“This has no meaning at all for what happened today. But these are things that we as players, and in particular myself as captain, have the right to say and have to say.

“Finally, it was the case that we got two tickets per game despite the fact that there were eight tickets for us for free each time. That was just so we should shut our traps (mouths).”

An understandable grievance, but was now really the time to talk about such things?

Meanwhile, Poland coach, Franciszek Smuda, did the honourable thing and resigned from his post.

“This is 100 percent the end of the road. My contract runs out at the end of Euro 2012. Thanks guys,” a visibly upset Smuda told Poland’s public TVP broadcaster.

Save of the tournament

The save of the tournament came not from a goalkeeper but from an outfield player.

In the closing seconds of the Czech Republic’s 1-0 win over Poland, a goal for the co-hosts would not have been enough to take the co-hosts through, but it would have denied their opponents a place in the quarter finals. And that is what Kuba Blaszczykowski looked like doing as he lobbed the ball over the head of Petr Cech, only for Michal Kadlec to sprint back and head the ball to safety from just under his own bar .

Russians retreat to Moscow

None of the shame-faced Russian players were prepared to talk to the assembled reporters when they sneaked out of their hotel onto the team coach this morning.

Party time

In contrast to the sober scenes in the Russian camp, it was party time when the Greeks returned their team hotel last night. Followed by a civilised buffet.

Quote of the day

“It’s very difficult for us in this group, because the re are just too many big egos. After the World Cup they may have become even bigger. That makes it hard for us.”  

When Arjen Robben thinks there are too many egos, then you know things have got out of control.

England to face the music

England are the latest team to be charged by UEFA for the poor conduct of their supporters. The investigation surrounds an attempted invasion of the pitch after England’s second and third goals during Friday’s 3-2 win over Sweden, according to a statement on the European governing body’s website.

Although the English FA accept there was some encroachment by fans following the goals, they will argue it was exuberance.

They managed to get a similar charge dropped after the first game against France: on that occasion they argued that the encroachment was due to sleepwalking.

Reality bites

Wayne Rooney, who has been forced to sit out the opening two matches of the tournament while he served a two-game suspension, is clearly in tune with the new mood of realism permeating England.

Six years ago, Rooney missed the beginning of  the World Cup finals in Germany due to injury, but his entrance was greeted  rapturously by  press and public alike, and he himself was heard to bellow to his team-mates:  “The big man is here!”

Well, the big man was there, but not for long, as his involvement was curtailed by picking up a red card in England’s quarter-final defeat to Portugal.

There’s more circumspection from Rooney these days and, one is tempted add,  a good deal more maturity.

“I don’t put that pressure on myself, to be honest,” he said when asked about his imminent return to action. “There are 23 players in the squad and there’s pressure on us all. It’s great that we’ve scored a few goals and we’ve put the points on the board. I’m not going to win the Euros on my own.”

Add modesty to his burgeoning list of qualities. At this rate, England might not turn out to be the hateful bunch most people can’t wait to see the back of. If Roy Hodgson achieves nothing else at Euro 2012, the trip won’t have been entirely wasted.

Hallelujah!

We’re still waiting an official statement from the Croatian FA condemning racism, so in its’ absence the call from Croatia coach Slaven Bilic for UEFA to come down hard on racist fans, is more than welcome.

UEFA is investigating reports that Croatian fans threw a banana onto the field during Thursday’s match against Italy and racially abused striker Mario Balotelli.

Bilic says he is ”so angry with these couple of crazy supporters” because Croatia is a ”modern, open-minded and tolerant state.”

Bilic says authorities should ”stop this kind of supporter forever.”

Well said Slaven!