ATHENS - The Associated Press
Greek players celebrate after the Euro 2012 championships football match Greece vs Russia on June 16, 2012 at the National Stadium in Warsaw. AFP Photo
Greece's national football team restored some pride to a crisis-hit nation.
The team's 1-0 win over Russia
at the European Championship yesterday touched off a wave of celebrations by fans back home who have been battered by an ongoing financial crisis and years of austerity. The win put Greece
in the quarterfinals and eliminated the Russians.
"We are proud that we gave the people back home some joy and a break from their problems, even for a short while," Greece
striker Georgios Samaras said. "We did very well defensively, but the will we had was the main thing. That stopped them from scoring goals." The Greeks took the lead just before the halftime whistle when captain Giorgos Karagounis sent a low shot under Russia
goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.
"The moments are pure magic for all of us. This is a great night for all Greeks," Karagounis said. "I thank God for living these moments. I cannot describe how I feel. It's so great." Russia
coach Dick Advocaat was left ruing his talented team's missed chances. Russia
had 25 shots to Greece's five.
"We should have won by a wide margin tonight but we didn't. My compliments to Greece," the Dutchman said after his final match as Russia
coach before moving to PSV Eindhoven. "A number of players weren't sharp enough to score." The Greeks could now face Germany in a politically charged quarterfinal that would bring the financial crisis onto the field at Euro 2012. Greece
will vote for a new government on Sunday amid a financial meltdown that has threatened its membership in the eurozone. Germany has put pressure on any new government to accept strict austerity measures and stand by promises to international creditors.
On Friday, however, it will be back to football in Gdansk for a shot at the semifinals.
Greece coach Fernando Santos played down the possibility of drawing inspiration from Germany's tough budgetary line with Athens.
"What inspires us is Greece's history. That inspires me a lot," said Santos, who is Portuguese. "The Greeks have great pride and they have earned respect from everyone. History democracy, science, values â€” it all started in Greece." Karagounis, playing his national record-tying 120th international match, will miss the quarterfinals after getting a yellow card for diving. The Greece
captain thought he won a penalty when he made contact with Sergei Ignashevich in the area, but Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson instead booked him.
"That's not fair," Karagounis said. "They should check the video." Russia
had been the overwhelming favorite going into the match at the National Stadium, but it was again guilty of squandering chances.
"We did go forward, were very attacking. We played well, but you have to score goals," Advocaat said.
"We did that in first game and despite all the possession today we didn't do that today." Russia
became one of the tournament favorites with its 4-1 win over the Czech
Republic in their opening match, but then drew with Poland and finally lost to Greece, snapping a 16-match unbeaten run.
Russian players dejectedly tramped off the field immediately after the final whistle, while Greece's euphoric players hugged one another and then celebrated with fans.
"What I'm feeling is overwhelming. I think we did deserve more, but it didn't happen," Malafeev said.
"To concede that goal just before halftime was an awful feeling." The mood in Athens was quite different.
Thousands poured into Omonia square in central Athens waving Greek
flags, lighting flares and setting off firecrackers amid the din of hundreds of honking cars.
"A little more respect for Greece
please," reveler Anestis Krilekoutis said.
"Greeks have heart and they show it when things get tough, we pull together in times of crisis," said 29-year-old Vasilis Papaspyliotopoulos, standing amid the crowd with the Greek
flag draped across his shoulders.
Revelers broke into chants of "bring on the Germans", relishing the prospect of meeting the country footing most of the bill for their multibillion-euro bailout, and being their most outspoken critic â€” in a quarterfinal showdown with political connotations.
"It's a result that shows our country is strong," said Stavros Helmis, 26. "Sport may not be the most serious thing, but it lifts our spirits."