So yesterday morning I was sitting at the bar with my homies, in a Russian sailor vest and with a big Russian flag draped round our table. It was 0-0. Whatever. Russia had mounted several good attacks, and was bound to score eventually, and even if it didn’t, as long as the Poland – Czech game remained drawn there was nothing to worry about. Russia would remain first in its group and wouldn’t even have to face off against the Teutons in the quarter finals. As the 2 minutes added time ticked down, I took my eyes off the screen, readying to order my second Shocktop (good thing about the Euro? One can legitimately start drinking from the morning). Then a blunder from Ignashevich sent the ball straight into the path of the Greek captain Karagounis, who got a clear shot straight into the Russian goal.
Now that I’ve calmed down a bit from the disappointment, and looking at things objectively, I do not think the Russian team played particularly badly – as was commonly argued by enraged Russian fans calling for Fursenko’s head. They made several strong attacks in the second half, hitting the bars twice, and a header from Dzagoev came close too. They had 70% possession, more attacks, and were tactically superior. The most impressive Greek effort came from Karagounis, who dived in the penalty box and got a yellow card for his trouble. While several commentators argued the Greeks should have gotten a penalty, on closer inspection of the video its clear to me that the Swedish ref made the right call.
Then the Czechs scored. This was fast becoming a catastrophe. At first, I wasn’t overly concerned because I was under the impression that goal difference took preeminence over face to face results. Only by the 75th minute did I discover my mistake; UEFA apparently no longer operated by FIFA rules in this regard. If Russia lost to Greece, it was out. And then, it was out for real, as a last ditch Russian kick went wildly overhead.
It’s a pity, and I don’t only say this because I was rooting for Russia. I agree with Owen Polley that Russia had the most entertaining play after Spain, and that the Greek side was “dreary and negative” (the Spaniards who knocked out Russia in 2008 were at least fun and elegant). And this disappointed a lot of people besides myself; Russia seems to have been everyone’s “dark horse” candidate (i.e., not Spain or Germany) to win the tournament. The only consolation I suppose is that the Poles didn’t go through, what with their hooligan attacks on Russian fans. I will now switch my support to Ukraine – though chances are, I’m sorry to say, it will be knocked out by a mediocre but nonetheless superior English team the day after tomorrow – and to Greece, for the elementary reason that if it manages to eke out further wins then Russia’s loss won’t look quite as dreadful in comparison.