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Greece coach Otto Rehhagel praised his players for keeping their focus despite going two goals down early on against Russia, as they recovered their composure to become the first Greek team to qualify for the last eight of a major tournament.
Greece needed a draw from their final Group A match to be certain of a place in the last eight, but after going 2-0 down in the first 17 minutes through goals from Dmitri Kirichenko and Dmitri Bulykin their hopes of qualification seemed to be in tatters. Rehhagel's side found their rhythm, however, and although Zisis Vryzas' 43rd-minute strike could not prevent a defeat, it was enough to edge them into second place ahead of Spain.
'Our game important'
Rehhagel said: "I had already told the players that this would be a very difficult match. All the Russian players are very good and they're all professionals. They had lost the previous two matches and we knew they would be out for a win. We knew what was happening elsewhere but the important thing was to worry about our game. We knew we'd lost two goals early on and we just had to try and get a good result."
Portugal's 1-0 win against Spain ensured the host nation finished top of the group and now face the runners-up from Group B on Thursday, before Greece take on the section winners the following evening. But Rehhagel said: "Any opponent we face now will be good - whether it's France, England or Croatia. We have nothing to lose. There is no pressure on the Greek team. We are just going to enjoy the fact that we are there."
Rehhagel is also hoping the Greek authorities will use the success to develop football in Greece. "The important thing is that we improve the infrastructure in Greek football and create new young players," he said.
Greece captain Theodoros Zagorakis revealed that Russia's fast start left his side in a state of shock. "It took us some time to understand what happened," he said. "But we have fulfilled all our promises. We made Greece not just the talk of Europe but also of the world."
Meanwhile, Russia coach Georgi Yartsev was delighted to have finished on a positive note. "I am proud of my team," he said. "I was able to watch the game tonight without worrying about what was going on in the other match and I enjoyed the performance my players produced."
He also had words of encouragement for Portugal, saying: "I am happy that Portugal went through because we made friends with Luiz Felipe Scolari from the start. We have a lot of respect for him. Before all the matches, the Portuguese team sent us a fax wishing us all the best."
However, Yartsev admitted that he remains unsure of his own future. "There will be a meeting with the Football Union of Russia executive committee to decide whether I will continue with the team," he explained. "We didn't manage to qualify out of the group and why that is will be discussed when we are in Moscow. Skill-wise we were not as strong as other teams but there were other reasons for it."
'Great to score'
Having failed to score in their first two games, Russia fielded a new partnership of Bulykin and Kirichenko in attack, with the latter, in particular, causing problems for the Greece defence. After picking up his Carlsberg Man of the Match award, Kirichenko said: "It's great to score but I feel normal. It was an interesting, open game with many chances."
The PFC CSKA Moskva striker was making his first appearance in the tournament, and Yartsev said: "It's a shame that he did not play in the first two matches."
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