What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago Russia had just convincingly beaten the Czech Republic and Dick Advocaat's side were being touted as outsiders for UEFA EURO 2012. However, they are now packing their bags to fly home after suffering a 1-0 loss to Greece.
It was an extremely frustrating night when nothing seemed to go right for the Russians. They dominated both territory and possession but just could not break down an excellently marshalled Greek defence who were superb on the night. Fernando Santos's side came with a plan to try and stop their opponents from scoring an early goal and then hit them on the counterattack. It was executed to perfection.
Russia piled on the pressure in the first half, but apart from Andrey Arshavin's close-range effort, which Michalis Sifakis did well to block, Advocaat's charges had to resort to shots from distance. A goal out of nothing by Giorgos Karagounis gave Greece the goal they desperately wanted and a splendid rearguard display in the second half kept Russian chances to a premium. Ultimately, it was Santos's team who had the better opportunities to extend their lead.
Russia had come into this tournament with high expectations. They had qualified top of their group and with an experienced and talented squad there were hopes they could repeat the success of UEFA EURO 2008, when they managed to reach the semi-finals. Those dreams are over for another four years as Russia paid the price for a lack of a cutting edge in front of goal and an inability to change their tactics when their initial plan of trying to pass the ball through their opponents failed.
When a team moves into championship mode, some try to shy away from speaking to the media and concentrate solely on playing football. This Russian team couldn't have been more different. Every time we needed to speak to a player, the team could not have been more accommodating in meeting our wishes.
However, it's results on the pitch which are remembered and not how sociable a team are. Russia are an ageing squad, the oldest at this tournament, and it remains to be seen how many will decide to hang up their boots. With Dick Advocaat bound for PSV Eindhoven a new coach will need to be found, but until they can come up with Plan B, Russia are always likely to come unstuck when playing such tenacious sides as Greece.
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