Greece just gave themselves too much to do. Last Friday they fought back from a poor start to hold Poland to a 1-1 draw. But last night, against Czech Republic in Wroclaw, the 2-0 deficit they incurred in the first six minutes proved insurmountable, despite a commendable fightback which brought a Theofanis Gekas goal.
The Czechs, after their gleeful start, did not have to play well, but now know that a victory over Poland on Saturday will send them through. However they may have to manage without playmaker Tomas Rosicky, who has a heel injury.
"It was his Achilles heel but we hope he is fit for the third match because he is our key player," said the Czech Republic coach, Michal Bilek.
"There is not one player on the team I would not praise," he added. "We wanted to attack even more but it was difficult when Rosicky left."
Greece cannot have been surprised by their early setback. In their first game, in Warsaw, they were buffeted by Poland for the first half. But at least they kept their footing for 17 minutes before Robert Lewandowski's header put the co-hosts ahead. This time, though, without suspended centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos, they could find no resistance whatsoever to those early attacks.
The Czechs started in the third minute. With no pressure in midfield and no tracking in defence, Tomas Hubschman found himself free to roll a perfect pass through to meet the run of Petr Jiracek, who swept the ball into the bottom corner.
Three minutes later it happened again. Still not alive to the Czechs' sharp passing, Greece allowed Rosicky to knock the ball between their left-back and centre-back. Theodor Gebre Selassie bounded on to it, reached the byline and pulled back a cross. Kostas Chalkias could only get a palm to the ball and Vaclav Pilar burst between Vasilis Torosidis and Kostas Katsouranis to score.
But while this Greek side cannot claim to match the defensive organisation of the champions of 2004, they can certainly match their spirit. Despite the worst start of the tournament, they somehow forced their way back into the game. Four minutes before the break Giorgos Fotakis had his header disallowed from Torosidis' cross.
Greece were not producing much pretty football but they did not win in 2004 by opening up. Eventually their persistence brought them a goal. A soft cross into the box should have been easily dealt with, but Petr Cech collided with Tomas Sivok. The ball fell to half-time substitute Gekas, who brought Greece back into the game.
The Czech Republic, having replaced Rosicky at half-time and Milan Baros 20 minutes later, lacked their early fluency in the second half. Greece continued to attack in their own way, but Gekas could not quite direct his header from Giorgos Karagounis' late free-kick. "We didn't exist on the pitch for the first 10 minutes," complained coach Fernando Santos afterwards. "We had been over the risks with the players but what we said was not put into practice."
Man of the match Jiracek.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee S Lannoy (Fr).
Attendance 35,213.Reuse content