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Saturday, 16 June 2012

Euro 2012: Through the Looking Glass

Holy shit. What just happened there?

I don't think anybody expected, going into tonight's final Group A games, that Greece would progress to the knock-out stages and Russia wouldn't. Moreover, that the Czechs, who began the tournament being spanked 4-1 by Russia, would top the group. But to return to the wisdom of baseball's Yogi Berra: that's why they play the games.

Russia came into the final game in pole position (no pun intended), requiring no more than a point to qualify. Greece started the match at the bottom of the group, essentially written off, unless they could scrape a win against what many considered to be the best team in Group A. And yet, despite dominating the match in terms of possession, a goal from Giorgos Karagounis was enough to put Greece into the quarter-finals. Karagounis will not be running out for that next game, thanks to a yellow card for alleged diving, but from the Greek celebrations, you'd think they just won the tournament.

Of course, having come in second, they're most likely to face Germany in the next round, barring something unexpected tomorrow. But then, the unexpected has been cropping up all over the place in this tournament so far.

Meanwhile, the Czechs bounced back from a pretty terrible first-game showing to beat Poland and knock out the co-hosts. It looked for a long time like it might become the first 0-0 draw of Euro 2012, but for all that was still an exciting, fast-paced match, though the Poles, despite taking the most shots, rarely looked like they were in any danger of actually scoring. Even at the end, when an equalizer would have simply knocked themselves and the Czechs out, they didn't look all that incisive. The Czechs dominated possession, meanwhile, spearheaded by a series of runs from Vaclav Pilar, in particular.

The win puts them on top of the group, which means they face whoever comes in second tomorrow in Group B - whoever that turns out to be, since even the abject Netherlands are capable, apparently, of making it to the next round. In any case, and knowing how easily these two teams have overturned conventional wisdom, the road probably won't go much farther for either. But it'll be fun to see how it turns out, whatever happens.