Champions out, Spain go through
Spain became the fourth team to book their place in the knockout
stages of UEFA EURO 2008 with a 2-1 win over Sweden in Innsbruck on
Saturday. Meanwhile, defending champions Greece will be heading
home after the group phase following a 1-0 defeat to Russia, whose
hopes of progressing have been rekindled.
La Selección joined Portugal, Croatia and the Netherlands in the last eight of EURO 2008 on Saturday after edging out Sweden 2-1 with a goal at the death from tournament top scorer David Villa. Russia, for their part, will now take on Sweden in a decider for the group's other quarter-final berth following their 1-0 win over Greece.
David Villa, it seems, is determined to make this European Championship his own. Just as in Spain's first game, the forward formed a lethal strike partnership with Fernando Torres, scoring the decisive goal at the death to send Spain through to the quarter-finals.
The Iberians started brightly and went ahead through a goal from El Nino Torres, his first of the competition. However, the Swedes refused to lie down and dominated the rest of the first half, culminating in an equaliser from star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
With the latter being taken off with an injury early in the second half, the Scandinavians were rudderless for long periods, surrendering the lion's share of possession to Spain. However, despite controlling the game, Luis Aragones' side were unable to breach the Swedish rearguard until virtually the last kick of the game, when Villa pounced to score his fourth of the tournament.
Greece and Russia both needed a win to keep alive their hopes of progressing to the last eight. The two sides had met four years previously at EURO 2004, when the Russians were the only team who managed to beat them, and history was to repeat itself here.
Konstantin Zyryanov scored the only goal of the day, putting paid to the holders' campaign in Austria and Switzerland earlier than coach Otto Rehhagel had hoped. The blame lies partly with the ineffectiveness of the defence, hitherto the bedrock of this Greek team, and partly with the team's inability to score goals.
Pick of the day
Villa to the rescue for Spain
Just as everybody in the Tivoli Neu stadium in Innsbruck had settled for a draw between Spain and Sweden, up popped goal-getter supreme David Villa. Two minutes into added time, Joan Capdevila sent a long ball up towards Fernando Torres. Closely marked, El Nino slipped on the turf but the ball made its way to Villa. A deft touch took him inside the last defender and with just the keeper to beat, he kept his nerve and found the far corner, sending the Spanish players and fans into raptures.
Quote of the day
"I'm not that disappointed, because I knew what we had to do. We should have played more as a unit to defeat the Russians. Our problem is that we don't score many goals." Greece coach Otto Rehhagel after his side's elimination from EURO 2008.
The numbers game
8 - The number of years since a holder has been knocked out during the group stages, a scenario seen four times previously. In 2000, Germany fell at the first hurdle, as did Denmark in 1996 and West Germany in 1984 in their respective attempts to hold on to their crowns. Greece now joins this list.
Tomorrow's main attraction is the winner-takes-all clash between Turkey and the Czech Republic to decide who joins Portugal from Group A in the last eight. The Selecao das Quinas have already booked their place in the next round, and can be expected to rest many of their stars against already-eliminated co-hosts Switzerland, who will nonetheless be trying to give their fans something to cheer about and go out on a high.
On the final group stage matchday, all games will kick off at the same time (20.45 CET), although all eyes on Sunday will be on the meeting of Turkey and the Czechs, who will have 90 minutes to keep their title dreams alive after both sides lost to Portugal and beat Switzerland.
The Turks got off to a bad start with a 2-0 defeat to Portugal, but got their campaign back on track with a late, late winner from Arda Turan against the Swiss. The Czechs, meanwhile, overcame the co-hosts by the narrowest of margins, but had no answer to the Lusitanians' expansive football in their second game, losing 3-1. Both sides are level on goal difference and goals scored, and a draw will lead to extra time and penalties.
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