Five thoughts from Day Nine at Euro 2012:
1. Why the simultaneous kickoffs?
Plenty of people were asking me on Twitter why both games on the final day of group play kick off at the same time. This rule came into play following some shenanigans at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
Both West Germany and Austria could advance to the knockout stage out of group 2, provided the Germans won the game by less than two goals. They knew this before their game because the other group game between Algeria and Chile had been played the day before.
When West Germany took the lead after 10 minutes, the two teams proceeded to stroll about the pitch for the rest of the game; content in knowing they would both be advancing. Ever since, major tournaments have changed their format so that the final group games kick off simultaneously in order to prevent a similar situation.
2. Needing just a point is not always an advantage.
Russia needed just a point against Greece to advance to the knockout stage today – and they played like the outcome was a foregone conclusion. While the Russians had plenty of possession against the Greeks, they lacked any kind of cutting edge in attack.
Dreadful defending from the Russians gifted Giorgos Karagounis a free run at goal, which he obliged by hammering the ball beyond Vyacheslav Malafeev to give Greece the only goal of the game. Greece showed a much stronger desire throughout, and will be hoping to pull off an upset in the quarterfinals against the winner of Group B.
3. Russia's potent attack found wanting.
Russia came into their game against Greece full of confidence, having scored five goals over their first two group games. That confidence proved to be misplaced, as they missed chance after chance to get the goal they needed.
With 31 attempts on goal, the Russians only managed to find the target twice – an appalling conversion rate. Blasting the ball at the goal from distance – 19 of their attempts came from outside the penalty area - never threatened to trouble Michalis Sifakis in the Greek goal, because the Russians simply couldn't hit the target.
4. Replacing Rosicky not a problem for the Czechs.
Tomas Rosicky missed out on the Czech Republic's 1-0 win over Poland through injury, but his teammates proved that they could take up the slack left by his absence.
It wasn't his direct replacement, Daniel Kolar, who had the biggest impact on the Czech performance, though. It was much more of a collective effort, with Tomas Hubschman doing an effective job of keeping the Czechs in possession.
Petr Jiracek added his second goal of the tournament, and Vaclav Pilar was lively on the opposite side of the field. The Czechs did a good job of nullifying the Borussia Dortmund trio of Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski – which hampered Poland's ability to control the game.
5. What a turnaround for Greece!
After their performances over their first two games, it was difficult to see a way for Greece to get into the knockout stage. They were woeful defensively, with the left side of their defence leaking all three of the goals they conceded in the tournament to date.
Credit to Greek coach Fernando Santos; he dropped Jose Holebas, the left fullback, and brought in Giorgios Tzavellas as his replacement. Santos was also helped by the return of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who was harshly sent off for two dubious yellow cards in Greece's first game, and missed the loss to the Czech Republic through suspension.
Coming into Saturday's play, Russia and Poland were both in control of their destiny. They have no one to blame but themselves for failing to take advantage of their opportunities, much to the delight of Greece and the Czech Republic.