Greece pulled another surprise at the European championships as captain Georgios Karagounis led his side to a 1-0 win over Russia on Saturday to reach the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 alongside the Czech Republic.
The 35-year-old celebrated his 120th cap for the national team -- equalling the record of former captain Theo Zagorakis -- in the best possible way, with his low-flying right-footer delivering victory for the Greeks during the dying seconds of the first half.
The result was a shocker for Russia, who had gone into the match at the top of group A thanks to a 4-1 thrashing of the Czech Republic and a 1-1 draw against co-hosts Poland.
Greece won the 2004 edition of the competition, held in Portugal, against the odds. Saturday’s unexpected victory came on the eve of national elections seen as crucial for the indebted country’s financial future.
In the group’s other game, the Czech broke Polish hearts with a 1-0 win to eliminate the co-hosts.
In Warsaw’s National Stadium, Russia made one change in midfield, with Denis Glushakov replacing Konstantin Zyryanov -- the first change by coach Dick Advocaat after two games.
Greece, for their part, had four changes from the team that lost 2-1 to Czech Republic, with Michalis Sifakis in goal for the injured Kostas Chalkias and centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos back from a one-match suspension.
Needing a win, Greece started on the attack and had most of the initiative in the first 10 minutes. But Russia was always dangerous, thanks to great through balls from the midfield and fast runs on the flanks.
So it was no surprise that one of the clearest chances of the first half came Russia’s way in the 13th, with Zenit St Petersburg forward Aleksandr Kerzhakov firing a volley from the edge of the area that ended just wide of the far post.
The Greek defence held its nerve and the 2004 champions went in front just before the half-time whistle, when Karagounis collected the ball directly from a throw in, ran into the area and tucked the ball into the back of the net with a low-flying right-footer.
Knowing that a Polish or Czech victory could now eliminate them from the tournament, Advocaat substituted Kerzhakov with Roman Pavlyuchenko at half time.
Greece, on the other hand, could sit back and seek to strike on the counter-attack.
Controversy struck in the 62nd, when Karagounis thought he had been brought down inside the Russian penalty area by Yuri Zhirkov, but was instead booked for diving by Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson.
The yellow card means Karagounis will be suspended in the quarterfinals.
Soon after, Greek coach Fernando Santos made his intentions clear by substituting forward Fanis Gekas with Jose Holebas, a defender.
And yet it was the Greeks who again had the best chance, with defender Giorgos Tzavellas hitting the woodwork off a well-taken free kick.
Russia had a good crack at goal in the 75th with Igor Denisov, but his central shot was easily blocked by Sifakis.
All could have changed in the 83d, but a Alan Dzagoev header off a Andrey Arshavin cross ended just inches wide.
Greece now face the winners of group B, currently headed by Germany, on Friday in Gdansk.