Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Poles axed by Czechs
Russian favourites stumble out as well
WARSAW, Poland -- Co-host Poland and Group A favourite Russia crashed out of the European Championship on Saturday, as the Czech Republic and Greece scored 1-0 wins to advance to the quarter-finals.
The Czechs won the group as a second-half goal from Petr Jiracek beat Poland, which wasted a series of chances early in the game in rainy Wroclaw.
Greece recaptured the spirit and style of its surprise Euro 2004 title triumph to upset Russia, which led the group before kickoff.
Captain Giorgos Karagounis scored against the run of play with the final kick of the first half, and Greece hung on though an expected Russian onslaught never came.
The streets of Warsaw were calm before Russia's return to action in the city four days after violent clashes with Poland fans.
Earlier, UEFA opened its first disciplinary case for racist abuse at Euro 2012. It charged the Croatia football association after anti-racism monitors said fans made monkey noises at Italy forward Mario Balotelli.
A tense night was promised in Group A with all four teams knowing a victory would ensure a last-eight berth.
Poland had to win to progress, but became the latest European Championship co-host which failed to progress from the groups.
Despite a typically aggressive start, Poland did not make its chances count and Robert Lewandowski sliced his shot wide when clear on goal in the 10th.
The Czechs struggled without Tomas Rosicky, their captain and playmaker, who failed to recover from an Achilles tendon injury.
Still, Rosicky's teammates got stronger as the game progressed and Jiracek scored with a right-foot shot after twisting past a defender.
Poland poured forward late on searching for an equalizer which would have eliminated the Czechs.
In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Jakub Blaszczykowski beat goalkeeper Petr Cech with a rising shot, but defender Michal Kadlec ran back to twist and head the ball back out to safety.
"We realized that Russia was losing and we needed to win," Jiracek said. "We were very lucky that Poland didn't score in the last minute."
Russia started play with four points and needed only a draw to advance. It threatened several times in the first half, though Greece goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis only had to save from a close-range effort by Andrei Arshavin. Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Yuri Zhirkov just missed the goal with shots from distance.
Karagounis, making a Greek record-tying 120th appearance, shot low under Russia goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev with the last kick of the half.
Russia occupied Greece's half for most of the second period, but was kept at bay by characteristically resolute defending.
Forward Alan Dzagoyev came closest in the 84th, but his glancing header from Arshavin's cross drifted just wide.
Minutes later, it finished 1-0 -- as it did most times when Greece played eight years ago.
Karagounis -- who had a penalty saved in the opening match against Poland -- will miss the quarter-final. He thought he won a penalty when making contact with Sergei Ignashevich, but Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson instead booked the Greece captain for a dive.
One day after receiving reports from anti-discrimination monitors working at Croatia's 1-1 draw with Italy on Thursday in Poznan, UEFA laid formal charges.
Croatia will answer a case of "improper conduct" by their supporters, including "racist chants, racist symbols," UEFA said in a statement.
The Football Against Racism in Europe monitors wrote that Croatia fans made monkey noises at Balotelli, who is black, and displayed far-right nationalist flags.
Those responsible were "not supporters, but hooligans who should be isolated from all sports events," the Croatian body said in a statement, appealing to UEFA "not to punish the Croatian national team."
Croatia returns to action on Monday against Group C leader Spain in Gdansk.
Balotelli injured his right knee in training on Saturday, and is doubtful for Italy's game against Ireland in Poznan on Monday.
Today, Group B leader Germany faces Denmark in Lviv, Ukraine, and Portugal plays the Netherlands in Kharkiv.
Germany, with two wins already, is not guaranteed to qualify, and the Dutch are still in contention despite losing twice.
The group winner will play Greece in Warsaw, and the runner-up will face the Czechs in Gdansk.
-- The Associated Press
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2012 B2
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