First international goals for Rubén de la Red and Daniel Güiza earned a second-string Spain team a 2-1 comeback victory as Greece's hopes of ending their UEFA European Championship title defence on a high were spoiled at the last.
RCD Mallorca's Güiza rose unmarked with two minutes remaining to head in Sergio García's cross and complete an impressive second-half revival by Spain, who had fallen behind to Angelos Charisteas's header just before the break.
However, after a tepid first half, Spain began the second with renewed vigour – Xabi Alonso hitting the post before Real Madrid CF's De la Red made it 1-1 on 61 minutes, rifling in after Güiza had nodded the ball into his path. The same pair almost added gloss to this third successive win for Spain, while Charisteas grazed the outside of the post at the other end, but it was Güiza who had the last word.
With the fate of the sides bookending Group D already decided, and given the belated arrival of the Austrian summer, an end-of-term feel prevailed early on in Salzburg. For Greece's captain for the day, goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis, it was exactly that, with the 37-year-old having announced his international retirement in the wake of his error against Russia that sealed the holders' elimination.
But while he may have been forgiven a few pre-match nerves in Salzburg, these were quickly eased. The cheers of the Greece supporters behind his goal had barely died down when Nikopolidis was presented with a comfortable save, collecting Güiza's dinked cross after the forward failed to realise how much time Andrés Iniesta's expertly disguised pass had given him.
It was a false dawn in terms of attacking spectacle. Stung by the premature end to their campaign, Greece were circumspect at first despite the wide threat of recalled pair Giorgos Karagounis and Dimitris Salpingidis. Spain had the better of the possession, even if García and Cesc Fàbregas in particular did not make the most of it.
Alonso offered a more serious threat midway through the opening period when he almost caused Nikopolidis embarrassment after spotting that he had been drawn off his goalline. The Liverpool FC midfielder nearly added another to his collection of goals from his own half, but with Nikopolidis scrambling, his attempt dropped just the wrong side of the upright.
If Spain were not exactly peppering Nikopolidis's goal, it was still more than Greece were mustering. Yet Otto Rehhagel's UEFA EURO 2004 winners in Portugal were hardly renowned for their attacking play either – instead neutralising opponents and making their few chances pay, often from dead-ball situations. They found exactly that route to goal three minutes before half-time, with Karagounis's free-kick finding Charisteas all alone and the No9 burying his header into the top-left corner.
Goaded into action, Luis Aragonés's team were almost level soon after half-time as space opened up for Alonso to rifle an unstoppable effort that Nikopolidis was grateful to see come back off his post. It was a brief let-off for the Blue and Whites, and just after the hour De la Red restored parity with a fulsome finish. Both sides had opportunities to add to the scoring but the stage was set for Güiza, who ensured Spain would go into Sunday's quarter-final against Italy in Vienna on the back of a 100% in Group D. For Greece, it is home time.