Having fought hard for draw, not only against Poland but Carlos Velasco Carballo too, Greece’s Euro 2012 campaign was far from over and much heart could be taken from their 1-1 draw, especially considering they could have snatched all three points despite playing much of the game a man down, even when Wojciech Szczesny was sent off, thanks to aforementioned Spanish official. Unfortunately, Karagounis was unable to make himself Captain Fantastic, missing from the spot. Now they faced Czech Republic, who endured a heavy 4-1 defeat at the hands of an efficient Russia.
However, Greece started much like they did against Poland rather than how they finished and knowing that a loss would see them as the first team eliminated from Euro 2012 Czech Republic started with fury. The Greek back line was makeshift, having lost Papastaphopoulos to a one-game suspension, with Katsouranis dropping back into the defence from midfield and their defensive fragility was exploited with just two minutes gone. Tomáš Hübschman played a defence splitting pass in between the left back and centre back and Jiracek was left to finish with a left footed strike past Chalkias. Knowing a defeat was the end for them, Czech Republic were doing everything to ensure it was not a possibility.
Intentions, if not already, were made perfectly clear by the fifth minute mark. Tomas Rosicky received the ball 25 yards out and with all the creative flair and expressive nature harvested at Arsenal, the captain slotted a ball in behind the left back, which Gebre Selassie bombed after, controlled with one touch, steadied with another as he reached the line and fired in a low cross that Chalkias could only slap at, leaving Pilar to bundle in from the edge of the six yard box. 2-0 Czech Republic.
Arguably, the game was in danger of being over just six minutes after it had begun. Not only were the Czech two goals to the good, but they looked comfortable in possession and control of the game rested at the feet of the midfield hub of creativity that was the triumvirate of Rosicky, Pilar and Jiracek. Behind them, Plasil and Hubschman were calmly shielding the back four, which provided the aforementioned three with such freedom.
If Greece’s weakness was to be identified and strengthened, then they had to look at Gebre Selassie who’s constant energetic surges down the right flank was proving to be the Greek’s Achilles heel. Rosicky was constantly looking for Selassie. Selassie was constantly available. The Greek left back? José Holebas. Where was he? Snug in Selassie’s pocket.
One Greek had already suffered enough and after a poor first game in which he was at error for Lewandowski’s opening goal of the Euros and 2 goals conceded from the first two shots of today’s fixture, Chalkias retired. Or at least, he had for the day. As the ball was passed back to him, he lifted his hand apologetically and put the ball in to touch. After a brief discussion with the referee, his day was over and he made his way off the pitch, only pausing to wish well his replacement - Sifakis.
As the first half passed Greece by, seemingly unable to get a grasp of it, the referee offered to help them. However, he showed an equally poor first touch befitting of Greece’s side and subsequently toppled backwards as he scrambled out of the way of two oncoming opposing players. His dive did not convince the linesman, who’s flag stayed firmly down.
The referee’s comical involvement seemed to kickstart a bizarre ten minutes. Shortly after the official had picked himself up off the floor to the jeers of the crowd, Greece captain Karagounis took his turn to fall to the turf. In what was one of the slightest touches of the tournament so far, rivaling Postiga’s only active involvement in the tournament to date – a tackle on Manuel Neuer, the number 10 fell to the floor under Rosicky’s figure and proceeded to carry out what could only be described as a poor actor’s version of an epileptic fit. Continuing in the vein of inadequately carrying out one’s occupation, the Greek physio took to the pitch armed with numerous water bottles to squirt at the felled Karagounis. One can only presume it was Holy water of the Greek Gods, because within minutes the captain was patrolling the midfield once more, staring down Rosicky with hate in his eyes.
The first half finished as Greece were starting to exert above minimal effort. The replacement goalkeeper had already recorded a better shot to save ratio than his predecessor, saving a long range effort from Rosicky, and having not had a single shot for the first 39 minutes of the game, the Greeks decided they might have a better chance of scoring if they did and their first effort at Cech’s goal resulted with the ball in the back of the net. Unfortunately, the linesman had the kind of efficiency and accuracy wanted by all pundits, but questioned when displayed, and had spotted the scorer was inches offside. Of course inches offside translates as a dubious decision or at least, “a moment of controversy.”
Straight after the restart Petr Cech adopted the form he had maintained for much of Andre Villas-Boas’ reign at Chelsea, but the media had merrily forgotten after a few penalty saves, and as Samaras stroked in a lacklustre cross Cech stepped forward to collect the below-standard attempt at a delivery and entirely cut up the centre-back, resulting in the ‘keeper spooning the ball into the path of a fortunate Gekas as he collided with his defender, where he could then only look on as the Greek forward scored with his first attempt on goal, having come on as a half-time substitute. 2-1 Czech Republic.
Michal Bílek may have suddenly wished he had kept Tomas Rosicky on, having taken him off at half-time. However, now, Czech were instead without their playmaker and had invited pressure upon themselves, against a team that had so far strived under it. The only difference between this Greece and the Greece that played Poland was that this team were in this position through self-infliction. Yet, Greece managed to summon the second-wind they needed to mount a comeback attempt for the second game on the trot and from 55 minutes onward the Greeks applied assertive pressure to the shaky Czechs.
Pekhart came on for Baros, which enabled Czech Republic to become slightly more direct with the aerial presence Pekhart supplied offering a quick release to an often on the back for Czech side. Tomas Hubschman excelled in keeping a resurgent Greek midfield at bay, sitting deep throughout the second half and with a constant right-sided presence being supplied by Selassie and Pilar roaming successfully behind Pekhart, he was able to instigate counters from defensive positions, with both providing themselves for quick, short passes.
Greece did well to keep up the high tempo for the last twenty minutes, however they were unable to find the equaliser that they had done against Poland and the full-time whistle brought scenes of celebration from Czech Republic, with the figure of Cech cutting one of relief.
Now they go into their last game against co-hosts Poland with quarter-final qualification still to play for. Greece, on the other hand, go into their last game with the expectant group winners Russia with just a point. Slowly but surely, Greece are slipping out of Euro 2012.
Man of the Match – Tomas Hubschman