In a reprise of Euro 2004, Greece has shocked the footballing world at the 2012 UEFA Euro Cup.
Like in 2004, the Greeks helped send the host nation packing, though that year Greece eliminated the host Portugal in the final.
This time it was Poland, whom Greece deprived of a much-needed opening match win via a 1-1 draw. On the last day in Group A, Greece topped group favorites Russia 1-0 to advance to the elimination round.
Russia dictated tempo and field position for nearly the entire 90 minutes, but in stoppage time after the first 45' the Russians committed a mental error on a throw-in, which resulted in an open run for team captain Giorgios Karagounis. The Greece captain and veteran Panathanaikos midfielder finished the opportunity with icy calmness, blasting the shot past Vyacheslav Malafeev just as the defense closed in.
Karagounis found himself precluded from the quarterfinal match, as a booking at 61' on a questionable dive call stuck the Greek captain with a yellow card.
Greece advances with only three goals in the first three matches of play, while Russia returns home second only to Spain in group stage scoring.
Greece held on to eliminate the Russians, who only days earlier enjoyed an air of invincibility following their dominant 4-1 performance over the Czech Republic.
The Czechs, however, would storm back to help send those same Russians packing, along with neighbors and co-host Poland in the final round of Group A.
After suffering total football annihilation at the hands of Russia and prolific scorer Alan Dzagoev in their opening match, the Czechs managed to edge Greece 2-1 and Poland 1-0 for six points and the Group A crown.
A veteran corps of players like striker Milan Baroš, midfielder Tomáš Rosický and keeper Petr Čech along with youngsters like winger Petr Jiráček and back Theodor Selassie constitute a quietly world-class international side.
After their own breakthrough in the 2004 Euros, which included a semifinal appearance and victories over Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, expectations of the Czech side never again reached championship heights following the 2006 international departure of legendary winger Pavel Nedvěd and the 2009 retirement of 6'7" striker Jan Koller.
After a first-round exit from the 2006 World Cup and a nightmarish outing at the 2008 Euro, the Czechs advance to the elimination round of a major international competition for the first time in nearly a decade.
For those who missed it, the Czechs entered the final round of group play in 2008 needing only one point from their opponent Turkey. The Czechs built a 2-0 lead, but Turkey stormed back to win 3-2 and eliminate the Czechs.
2012 is their first return to international competition from that debacle, and the Nároďák have an opportunity to recapture the former glory of a side with a rich history of international competition.
The advancements of Spain, Italy, Portugal and Germany would typically surprise no one, but the Dutch going home winless certainly has become a rare event in international football. Holland suffered three losses under the boot of the aptly-named Group of Death, including a 1-0 shocker to Denmark in the opening round of Group B.
In Group D, co-host Ukraine face elimination at the hands of England with any result less than a tie, while Sweden plays a virtual consolation match against France.
England is a dark-horse in reality as opposed to name-recognition: Americans often think first of England when we think of round-ball football.
Yet for Europeans and for the English in particular, international competition is far from a sure thing. Indeed, England, like the Czechs, missed the 2008 competition altogether after a 3-2 debacle against Croatia in qualifying eliminated the English from qualifying for a major international tournament for the first time since the first Bill Clinton administration.
While no one will call England reaching the elimination round a "shock," realistically the Lions should experience a subdued relief if they escape a solid group D, which included co-host Ukraine.
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