Warsaw, Poland, Jun 17: Greece's national football team restored some pride to a crisis-hit nation.
The team's 1-0 win over Russia at the European Championship on Saturday touched off a wave of celebrations by fans back home who have been battered by an ongoing financial crisis and years of austerity. The win put Greece in the quarterfinals and eliminated the Russians.
"We are proud that we gave the people back home some joy and a break from their problems — even for a short while," Greece striker Georgios Samaras said. "We did very well defensively, but the will we had was the main thing. That stopped them from scoring goals."
The Greeks took the lead just before the halftime whistle when captain Giorgos Karagounis sent a low shot under Russia goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.
"The moments are pure magic for all of us. This is a great night for all Greeks," Karagounis said. "I thank God for living these moments. I cannot describe how I feel. It's so great."
Russia coach Dick Advocaat was left ruing his talented team's missed chances. Russia had 25 shots to Greece's five.
"We should have won by a wide margin tonight but we didn't. My compliments to Greece," the Dutchman said after his final match as Russia coach before moving to PSV Eindhoven. "A number of players weren't sharp enough to score."
The Greeks could now face Germany in a politically charged quarterfinal that would bring the financial crisis onto the field at Euro 2012. Greece will vote for a new government on Sunday amid a financial meltdown that has threatened its membership in the eurozone. Germany has put pressure on any new government to accept strict austerity measures and stand by promises to international creditors.
On Friday, however, it will be back to football in Gdansk for a shot at the semifinals.
Greece coach Fernando Santos played down the possibility of drawing inspiration from Germany's tough budgetary line with Athens.
"What inspires us is Greece's history. That inspires me a lot," said Santos, who is Portuguese. "The Greeks have great pride and they have earned respect from everyone. History democracy, science, values — it all started in Greece."
Karagounis, playing his national record-tying 120th international match, will miss the quarterfinals after getting a yellow card for diving. The Greece captain thought he won a penalty when he made contact with Sergei Ignashevich in the area, but Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson instead booked him.
"That's not fair," Karagounis said. "They should check the video."
Russia had been the overwhelming favorite going into the match at the National Stadium, but it was again guilty of squandering chances.
"We did go forward, were very attacking. We played well, but you have to score goals," Advocaat said. "We did that in first game and despite all the possession today we didn't do that today."
Russia became one of the tournament favorites with its 4-1 win over the Czech Republic in their opening match, but then drew with Poland and finally lost to Greece, snapping a 16-match unbeaten run.
Russian players dejectedly tramped off the field immediately after the final whistle, while Greece's euphoric players hugged one another and then celebrated with fans.
"What I'm feeling is overwhelming. I think we did deserve more, but it didn't happen," Malafeev said. "To concede that goal just before halftime was an awful feeling."
The mood in Athens was quite different.
Thousands poured into Omonia square in central Athens waving Greek flags, lighting flares and setting off firecrackers amid the din of hundreds of honking cars. "A little more respect for Greece please," reveler Anestis Krilekoutis said.