Euro 2012’s Group A ended today in surprising, fairly exciting fashion. The Czech Republic beat Poland 1-0 and Greece did the same to Russia, so the Czechs won the group with six points and Greece finished second with four points because their victory today gave them the tiebreaker over Russia, who also ended with four points. Co-hosts Poland finished last with two points.
Russia had looked like the strongest of the four teams in the previous two matches, and Greece the weakest, so the result of their match was especially surprising, but the Greeks’ desperate defending was too difficult for the Russians. The Russians would have advanced with a draw or a draw between the Czechs and Poles, but even though Poland, who needed to win, controlled the first half of their match they couldn’t score, and once the Czechs went ahead midway through the second half the only question was whether the Poles could spite them by scratching out a draw. They had a fantastic chance in the final minute of stoppage time, but the Czechs cleared the ball off the line. Thus the Russians’ streak of failures at major tournaments since the breakup of the Soviet Union continues, and Poland join Switzerland and Austria from Euro 2008 and South Africa from the 2012 World Cup as a host country that has failed to advance out of the group stage.
The Czechs will play the second-place team from Group B in the quarterfinals and the Greeks will play the first-place team. No matter who their opponents are, I expect the Group B (a.k.a. the “Group of Death”) teams to advance, though the Czechs might be finding their form at the perfect time. Their first-place finish looked nearly impossible after they lost their first match to Russia 4-1, but give them credit for taking care of business against the Greeks and Poles with two solid one-goal victories.