WROCLAW, Poland — All it took was one strike from Czech midfielder Petr Jiracek to bring an end to the European Championship dreams of 40 million Poles.
With the victory, the Czechs finished atop Group A, and will play the runner-up of Group B in the knockout stage in Warsaw next week.
After withstanding a first-half barrage from Poland, the Czechs pushed forward in the second half looking for an opening. It came on a counterattack in the 72nd minute, when Jiracek collected a pass from Milan Baros in the box, cut right to clear past Poland’s Marcin Wasilewski and slotted the ball inside the far post.
“We had a poor start but we gradually improved, started to create chances and finally, we deserved to score,” Jiracek said.
Poland, which had to win to advance, immediately brought on two attacking players in the last 30 minutes to push for a goal, but struggled to create any serious threats.
After the final whistle, the Czech players swarmed each other on the pitch. The Poles fell to the ground, covering their faces.
“I think that probably we were too sure about winning this game. The Czechs played excellent football,” Poland coach Franciszek Smuda said. “We had some opportunities before halftime, we didn’t take advantage of them and we lost the game.”
The Czechs pulled off the win despite playing without their captain and playmaker Tomas Rosicky, who was sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury.
Greece 1, Russia 0
WARSAW, Poland — Shades of 2004.
Greece surged into the European Championship quarterfinals, defeating Russia 1-0 Saturday on a goal by Giorgos Karagounis just before halftime.
Karagounis, making his team record-tying 120th international appearance, sent a low shot under goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev with the final touch of the first half.
The Greeks, the 2004 European champions, then did what they do best: defend.
“The moments are pure magic for all of us. This is a great night for all Greeks,” Karagounis said. “I cannot describe how I feel. It’s so great.”
Greece was a long shot at Euros eight years ago and after sneaking into the knockout rounds, it stormed to the title. Could it happen again?
“What inspires us is Greece’s history. That inspires me a lot,” said Greece coach Fernando Santos, who is Portuguese. “The Greeks have great pride and they have earned respect from everyone. History democracy, science, values — it all started in Greece.”
For the Russians, it was a shocking early dismissal after they made the semifinals four years ago. Russia was the overwhelming choice going into the match at the National Stadium, but it was again guilty of squandering chances. The Russians finished the match with 25 shots on goal, while Greece managed only five.
“We should have won by a wide margin tonight, but we didn’t. My compliments to Greece,” Russia coach Dick Advocaat said. “A number of players weren’t sharp enough to score.”
The Russians became one of the tournament favorites with their 4-1 win over the Czech Republic in their opening match, then drew with Poland and finally lost to Greece, snapping a 16-match unbeaten run.
Even as the Greeks closed down in front of their net late in the match, Karagounis looked to have won a penalty kick when Sergei Ignashevich appeared to bring him down in the area. But Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson instead booked the Greece captain for a dive, meaning he will miss the quarterfinals.
“We are proud that we gave the people back home some joy and a break from their problems — even for a short while,” Greece striker Georgios Samaras said. “We did very well defensively, but the will we had was the main thing. That stopped them from scoring goals.”