Greece captain Giorgos Karagounis scored the winning goal to send his team through to the quarter-finals at the expense of opponents Russia and claim the Carlsberg Man of the Match award.
Having failed to win a UEFA European Championship game since their memorable triumph in 2004, Greece knew the size of the task that awaited them against Russia in Warsaw. They realised they would have to end that run to reach the last eight and made an excellent start with Karagounis, one of the remaining members of their 2004 vintage, pulling the strings in midfield as well as organising his team-mates into their rigid defensive formation.
Starved of the ball for long periods in the first half, the 35-year-old barked out the orders and Greece managed to limit Russia to efforts from distance. It remained that way until virtually the last kick of the opening period when the Panathinaikos FC man dared to leave his holding midfield post and venture forward. It was a gamble that paid off as he pounced on Sergei Ignashevich's misdirected header, raced into the penalty area and smashed the ball past Vyacheslav Malafeev.
"I drove forward, away from my opponent, and took a shot which, thank God, went into the net," said Karagounis, who will miss the quarter-final after picking up a yellow card. "It was a very important time in the game." More defending was required after the break but, despite his substitution on 67 minutes, Greece battled valiantly to hold on and it was fitting that Karagounis, along with his three children watching from the stands, led the celebrations at the full-time whistle.
"We played with heart and soul which are the characteristics of this team," he said. "We displayed those qualities throughout, showing our character. We were only playing for one result and we got it. The supporters were splendid and we managed to get a result which will bring joy to Greeks around the world. Sometimes it's not just about qualifying but about the performance, and that was all important for us."
At the post-match press conference, the award was handed over by a man who knows all about scoring important goals, ex-Croatia and Real Madrid CF forward Davor Šuker. "I was glad to select him as the man of the match," said the 1998 UEFA Champions League winner. "He scored the goal, he fought and played with heart for the national team and that's very important for all national teams. I wish them luck in the next round."
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