Faro - Loule
Sunday 20th June 2004
The Russians, already making plans for the return journey home, had up until now failed to hit the back of the net.
Only needing a point from this game, the Greeks took to the field in Faro-Loule to play their weakest opponents so far. Coach Otto Rehhagel fielded his strongest possible side and looked a certainty to take Greece to the quarter finals for the first time in their history. It didn't quite go to plan however and the Greeks had to endure a nervous evening, finally qualifying at the expense of Spain on goal difference alone.
It only took 68 seconds to prove that the Russians were determined not to leave this tournament without salvaging some pride. The quickest goal in the competition's history started with a long clearance from the Russian goalkeeper Malafeev. Costas Katsouranis failed to tidy up in the Greek defence and the ball found its way to Dmitri Kirichenko who powered his way into the box and stretched out a toe to poke the ball past Nikopolidis from ten yards.
A redesigned Russian team were playing with confidence and they rocked the Greeks by scoring again after just 18 minutes.
From a corner kick Dmitri Bulykin found himself completely unmarked in the area and powered his header high into the net. The Greek qualification certainty was starting to crumble, as there was a strong possibility that second place in Group A would be decided by goal difference. In fact they could have been three behind had Andrei Kariaka done better with his effort from 15 yards. The Greeks were playing with none of the determination or attacking flair they had shown against Spain and Portugal.
Greece did have their chances in the first half with Angelos Basinas forcing a save from Malafeev and Angelos Charisteas sending his effort high over the bar. It wasn't until just before the break that Greece did finally pull a goal back and it was an excellent finish by Vryzas. Using his strength he cut across the defence and neatly sent the ball over Malafeev who had advanced to narrow the angle.
The second half was much the same as the first with Russia causing Greece plenty of problems. Russia were solid at the back and in midfield and if they had shown this kind of team spirit in their first two matches this group could have been even more interesting.
Both sides could have scored in this half, Vassilios Tsiartas coming closest for Greece with a free-kick that required an excellent save from Malfeev to keep the score at 2-1.
Russia had a last gasp chance to break Greek hearts and they were inches away from sending Spain into the quarter finals with Kirchenko sliding in and almost connecting with a great cross from the right.
Greece breathed a sigh of relief though and held on to progress to the quarter finals now they need to regroup and prepare for the game against the winner of Group B. Russia head home having ended their tournament with their best performance, unfortunately it was far too late.
Russia: Malafeev, Aniukov, Sharonov (Sennikov 56), Bugaev, Evseev, Gusev, Radimov, Kariaka, Alenitchev, Bulykin (Sychev 45), Kirichenko.
Subs Not Used: Akinfeev, Semshov, Izmailov, Kerzhakov, Bystrov, Loskov, Aldonin.
Booked: Sharonov, Aniukov, Kariaka, Alenitchev, Radimov, Malafeev.
Greece: Nikopolidis, Seitaridis, Kapsis, Dellas, Venetidis (Fissas 89), Charisteas, Zagorakis, Basinas (Tsiartas 42), Papadopoulos (Nikolaidis 69), Katsouranis, Vryzas.
Subs Not Used: Chalkias, Katergiannakis, Dabizas, Giannakopoulos, Kafes, Georgiadis, Goumas, Lakis.
Booked: Vryzas, Dellas.
Referee: Gilles Veissiere (France).