Today began the final stretch toward the quarterfinals with the last games of group A being played. As Poland faced the Czech Republic and Greece faced Russia, every team in the group still had the possibility of moving on to the knockout round. Poland started off with the edge against the Czechs, playing at a quick pace to try and get ahead early on. Lewandowski had a great chance at the end of the first ten minutes. Blaszczykowski seized a loose ball in the Czech half of the field and passed it to Lewnadowski, who struck it toward goal with his left foot. However, the ball went just wide of goal and struck the side netting. Poland attempted to keep up this attack, but as the first half wore on, the Czech team started to take control of the match. The Czechs continued to trouble Tyton in the second half, with both teams each needing a win to advance. The moment of opportunity for the Czech Republic came in the 72nd minute, after Poland lost the ball in the Czech half and the Czechs ran it up the field. Milan Baros made a short pass to Jiracek, who stepped around a Polish defender and sent the ball screaming past Tyton into the back right corner of the net. The Czech goal was enough to carry them through to a 1-0 win over Poland, put them at the top of group A, and secure their advancement to the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, the match between Greece and Russia began with group leader Russia performing well against the Greek side, whom many considered to be the most underwhelming side in group A thus far. Russia dominated possession and Greece struggled to get any chances on the Russian goal. However, just before the whistle to end the first half, Greece caught a lucky break as Russian defender Sergei Ignashevich bungled a Greek throw-in and Karagounis intercepted the ball in the Russian third of the pitch. Karagounis had a clean run on goal with only Malafeev in the way, and Karagounis drove a low shot at the left corner that Malafeev was unable to stop. The last-minute goal put Greece ahead 1-0 at halftime. While Russia did well to try and salvage the match during the second half, the scoreline at 90 minutes remained 1-0 giving Greece their first win in the European tournament since the 2004 final match against Portugal. The Greek win put them tied with the Russians at 4 points each.
Here is where the tiebreaker comes in. In previous UEFA championship tournaments, the goal differential was be the initial tiebreaker. Under this rule, Russia would have gone through with a +2 goal differential across the three matches and the highest goal differential in the group. However, in an attempt to reduce seemingly unfair results in Euro 2012, UEFA changed the first tiebreak to the head to head result between the two tied teams. With the new rule, Greece’s defeat of Russia means that Greece advances to the quarterfinals along with the Czech Republic while the Russians are eliminated from the tournament. In my personal opinion, the decision to change the tiebreak was a bad one on UEFA’s part, and the results of this group demonstrate that. The Russians played beautifully with Dzagoev and Arshavin forming a powerful force up front and Malafeev comfortably defending the Russian goal, and definitely had the best performance of the group. Even during the match against Greece, Russia was in control the entire time with over 60 percent possession and ten shots on target to Greece’s two. To have the team with the top goal differential in the group and one of only three players to have scored three goals thus far in the tournament be defeated because of a 1-0 loss does not seem like a situation that promoted fair results. However, at the beginning group A was definitely going to be the most difficult to predict group of the tournament, and it certainly delivered on its unpredictability throughout the group stage.
Group A Final Standings:
Czech Republic and Greece advance.