We put a smile on Greek faces, says Giorgos Karagounis after defeating Russia

Greece 1 Russia 0

Triumph in adversity is a much-used phrase, but it applied perfectly to what happened on Saturday to Greece and the country's beleaguered people.

For so long defined by their economic problems, Greece's advance to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals via their gutsy 1-0 win over the heavily fancied Russians finally gave ordinary citizens a chance to feel good about themselves

Indeed, after the match the Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis, who scored the winner against Russia just before half-time, said his country's troubles had acted as the ultimate motivator. "When we left Greece, we all said we would really give it everything," he said. "We would have anyway, but the hardship made us fight more.

"We put a smile on Greek faces. It's not just that we went through, but it's the way we did it. I can't describe the feelings I have tonight."

There was more than smile on a lot of Greek faces as, on the final whistle, thousands of people poured into Omonia Square in central Athens waving the national flag, lighting green and red flares and setting off firecrackers amid the din of hundreds of honking cars and renditions of the national anthem in a spontaneous outpouring of patriotic fervour.

On the eve of pivotal elections that could decide the troubled nation's economic fate, the victory was all the sweeter because it came in true underdog style, bringing back memories of Greece's improbable run eight years ago, when they won the European Championship in Portugal against all expectations.

The one sour note was that Karagounis, who equalled the Greek appearance record of 120 matches, will miss the quarter-final through suspension after collecting a contentious booking for a supposed dive in the game against Russia.

On Saturday, everything clicked as the players followed coach Fernando Santos's mantra: "Take every challenge, defend hard, deny your opponents the chance to deploy, and victory will come."

Santos, who came to the tournament with just one defeat in 21 matches, said his players were "tremendous. They showed great tenacity and character. I had told them that they have my full trust. I told them that now is when character matters, and their response was awesome."

Defender Giorgos Tzavellas, who came in for his first match of the tournament to fill a weak spot on Greece's left , said: "We've worked so hard for this. It's fantastic. It didn't go well in the last two games, but tonight everything went well."

As the Greeks took stock of the likelihood of a last-eight meeting with Germany – the economic powerhouse of Europe as well as being second favourites to win the tournament – jokes spread across the internet and mobile phone messages poked fun at German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

One Greek message read: "Merkel get ready, it's your turn now." The way Greece played on Saturday night, who's to say that prediction might not come true?

Defeat saw Russia crash out of the tournament nine days after winning their opening game against the Czech Republic 4-1. Head coach Dick Advocaat struggled to come to terms with what was his final game in charge being branded a failure, reacting angrily to suggestions his side played badly. He said: "I think we played quite well. We went forward and the other team just defended. So, don't say that we didn't play well today.

"It's true that we conceded a goal and we simply didn't put away our chances. But in the first half I think we played really well. And, in the second half, against a team like Greece, with all respect, it was hard to play against.

"We were undefeated for 16 games and it was unfortunate. We should've won but that wasn't the case. They were leading 1-0 after the half and they are just masters at doing what they did today."

greece 1-0 russia

Goal: Greece Karagounis 45.

Subs: Greece Holebas 5 (Gekas, 64), Makos 5 (Karagounis, 67), Ninis (Salpingidis, 82). Russia Pavlyuchenko 4 (Kerzhakov, h-t), Pogrebnyak (Glushakov, 72), Izmailov (Anyukov, 81). Booked: Greece Karagounis, Holebas. Russia Anyukov, Zhirkov, Dzagoev, Pogrebnyak. Man of the match Samaras. Match rating 6/10. Poss: Greece 40%. Russia 60%. Attempts on target: Greece 2. Russia 13. Referee J Eriksson (Swe). Attendance 58,145.

 

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