Defending champions knocked out after Russian defeat (Lead)June 15th, 2008 - 5:45 am ICT by IANS
Salzburg (Austria), June 15 (DPA) Defending champions Greece were Saturday knocked out of Euro 2008 after being beaten 1-0 by Russia in a Group D match played in Salzburg. The Greeks have no point from their two games, but as Russia and Sweden - who earlier in the day lost 2-1 to Spain - have three points each and are playing against each other in their final game, Greece can no longer finish second behind Spain, who are assured of finishing first.
The only goal of the game came in the 33rd minute after goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis seemingly had a rush of blood to his head and chased after a ball that seemed to provide no danger.
Russia’s Sergey Semak beat the keeper to the ball though and his overhead cross found an unmarked Konstantin Zyryanov, who simply stuck out his foot and pushed the ball over the line.
After the game Greek coach Otto Rehhagel dismissed criticism that he played too defensively. “We always played what was right for us. Sweden also played defensively against Spain. We can play anything we want to, we play to win.
“I am not that disappointed as I knew beforehand what we can do. I always said that everything had to be right to beat Russia. The goal was practically an own goal, but the Russians are excellent sprinters and players.”
He said he would not make any decisions on his future at this stage. “An hour after the game every person is beyond reason. So now we will play our last game, then I will go on holiday and then I will look at things.”
Unlike their match against Sweden where they used five at the back, Greek played a four-man backline.
Russia, however, dominated the early play and could have gone ahead in the 15th minute when Roman Pavlyuchenko attempted to beat Nikopolidis with a lob, but the keeper did well to palm it over the bar.
Shortly afterwards it was Portugal 2004 hero Angelos Charisteas who nearly gave the defending champions the lead when Vasilis Torosidis crossed into the area and Charisteas just failed to connect. The ball crashed against Igor Semshov and rolled just past the upright.
Just at a time when Greece were getting into the game, the Russians scored out of nowhere from Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s speculative cross into the Greek area.
In the second half Greece pushed forward looking for their first goal of the tournament. This allowed the Russians plenty of space for counter attacks.
Pavlyuchenko had three chances in the second half, but twice pulled wide and once saw Nikopolidis push the ball away for a corner.
Midway through the second half, Greece had a good chance for the equalizer after Charisteas and Ionnis Amanatides combined well in the area before pushing the ball back to Angelos Basinas, but his shot flew over the bar.
The Greeks finally had the ball in the back of the net four minutes from the end, but Theofanis Gekas was ruled offside.
Although Greece pushed men forward in the final minutes in search of the equalizer that would have kept them in the competition, they could not break through the Russian defence.
Sweden and Russia face each other in their final group game on Wednesday, with Russia needing a win to finish second in the group, while Sweden will go through with a draw.
Russian forward Ivan Saenko said the game against Sweden would be very tough. “However, with the attitude that we showed today, we should be able to beat Sweden to go through.”
At the same time, Greece take on Spain in a match that is only of statistical value.
In the quarter-finals Spain will face either France, Italy or Romania, while Sweden or Russia will take on tournament favourites Netherlands.
Tags: antonis nikopolidis, charisteas, dpa, euro 2008, final game, greece, greeks, hero, konstantin, last game, match, otto rehhagel, portugal 2004, rush, russia, russians, salzburg austria, sergey semak, sprinters, two games