Czech Republic, Greece First to Reach Euro 2012 Quarterfinals

The Czech Republic and Greece became the first teams to qualify for the quarterfinals of the European soccer championship by winning their final group matches 1-0.

Petr Jiracek scored in the 72nd minute as the Czech Republic beat co-host Poland in Wroclaw last night, while Giorgos Karagounis’s goal in first-half injury time lifted Greece past Russia in Warsaw.

The Czechs won Group A with six points with the Greeks second over Russia by virtue of their victory after both had four points. Poland finished last with two points. The top two in each group advance to the final eight.

The Czechs rebounded from an opening 4-1 loss to Russia with two one-goal victories. They’re the first team to win a Euro group with a negative goal difference, according to Opta Sports.

“It’s crazy, it’s madness,” Czech defender Michal Kadlec said in a televised interview. “If after the first game somebody told me we’d go through and Russia would go home, I wouldn’t believe it.”

Russia had 62 percent of possession and a 25-5 shot advantage but were eliminated by Greek captain Karagounis, who equaled Theodoros Zagorakis’s record of 120 games for the national team.

“The moment is pure magic for all of us,” Karagounis told reporters. “It is something important for Greece and all Greeks. We said we would give it all, despite the difficulties. Now it is time to celebrate.”

The Czech Republic will meet the runner-up in Group B on June 21, while Greece faces the Group B winner the following day.

Group B

The final round of Group B games will take place today in Ukraine as Germany plays Denmark in Livi and Portugal meets the Netherlands in Kharkiv. Germany leads the group with six points, Portugal and Denmark have three and the Netherlands none.

After being outplayed by Poland in the first half in Wroclaw, the Czechs controlled the game after the break. They finally broke through with 18 minutes left as Jiracek took a pass from Milan Baros on the left side of the area, cut toward the middle and put a shot past goalkeeper Przeyslaw Tyton.

Poland almost tied the score in the closing seconds of injury time, which would have eliminated the Czechs, when captain Jakub Blaszczykowski lifted the ball over goalkeeper Petr Cech only for Tomas Sivok to head it off the line.

Russia went into the game in Warsaw leading the group and needing just a draw to advance, while 2004 champion Greece stood last.

Karagounis scored the only goal just before halftime when he picked up a throw-in which Sergei Ignashevich failed to control, went through the defense and fired a low shot past Vyacheslav Malafeev.

The Greeks were denied a penalty in the 61st minute when Karagounis appeared to be taken down by Ignashevich. Giorgos Tszvellas then hit the post with a free kick.

Russian pushed for the tying goal as coach Dick Advocaat brought on striker Pavel Pogrebnyak. Igor Denisov’s shot was stopped by goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis and Alan Dzagoev’s headed a cross from Andrey Arshavin wide in the closing minutes.

“We played quite well, pushed forward but the other team defended well,,” Advocaat said on UEFA’s website. “I thought we played really well in the first half. Giving respect to Greece, they were hard to play against in the second half.”

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