Russia will aim to storm into the Euro 2012 quarter-finals tonight when they face bottom of the table Greece, after missing the chance to pop the champagne by drawing 1-1 with co-hosts Poland.
But Group A underdogs Greece will not be content to play the role of extras in the Russians’ movie, aiming to bring some cheer to a homeland locked in a political and economic crisis. A draw will suffice to clinch Dutch veteran Dick Advocaat’s Russia a berth in the last-eight, but they aim to display the form that enabled them to demolish the Czech Republic 4-1 in their tournament opener last Friday.
“We need to forget that a draw will also put us into the knockout stage and score,” said goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev, one of seven Zenit St Petersburg players who have started both of Russia’s Euro 2012 matches. “Once, twice... as much as we can. Our fate is still in our own hands.” he said.
The picture is very different for Greece, who know it is do or die.
“We are going after one result,” underlined their Portuguese coach Fernando Santos. “I have total faith in my team. There is a chance and we have to focus and believe that it is possible.”
But the Euro 2004 champions will be painfully aware that they are not masters of their destiny, even if they take three points tonight.
Co-hosts Poland face must-win game
It is win or bust for co-hosts Poland as they take on the Czech Republic tonight as well knowing that any other result would see them exit the European Championship.
Poland may have played well in their opening two Group A matches but they failed to win either and currently sit third with just two points. The Czech Republic have three points and failure to win would mean that the Poles could overtake the Czechs and group leaders Russia, who have four points.
While Poland have injury concerns and need to win, the Czechs are in almost exactly the same boat. They could qualify with a draw but only if Greece do not beat Russia, otherwise they will be out. It means they too need to win to be sure of progressing but they have concerns over two crucial players, captain Tomas Rosicky and goal-keeper Petr Cech.
Arsenal midfielder Rosicky is the bigger doubt after what he believes is a recurrence of a calf injury he suffered in the final Premier League game of the season forced him to miss the second half of their 2-1 win over Greece.
“I’ll surely be 100%,” said Cech, who insisted the Greek blunder was well and truly behind him. “I don’t look back - the main thing is we won the match.”
Since the Czech Republic split from Slovakia to form an independent country, they have lost every time they have played away to Poland. However, the last meeting between the sides was a Czech victory in Prague in a World Cup qualifier three years ago.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2012.
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