In America, soccer gets a bad rap of being boring. The reason for that is we evaluate success with points.
Football [soccer] fans however evaluate games by action. Often times goals are the product of 20 little wins culminating in the huge win which is a goal. That is why people celebrate so much after scoring a goal in this sport. That is why you hear fans cheering all game long for every minute of the 90 minutes.
True goals in life are exactly the same. We may work for years in order to get a degree, but we need many, many, many passed subjects in order to get to that goal. There are no free lunches in this unfair world and things that are important take much work. Football is the master teacher of these lessons. Today was a perfect example of all of this.
Before today's contest, there was plenty of drama. If Russia tied today, they would be able to advance. If Greece tied today, they would be out. If Greece won, they would still need help. That help would have to be the Czech Republic winning. For Poland, they needed to win and they would still need some help. The help that they needed was in the form of Russia either tying or winning. What a headline that would be! To keep things as fair as possible, FIFA makes sure every team in the group plays at the same time for the third round thus greatly intensifying the tension.
All of this drama leads to pressure. How everybody deals with pressure usually determines whether or not they will succeed.
After 10 minutes, there wasn't a score. If that result held up, then Poland and Greece will be out. Don't think that the players didn't have those things on their mind as they were playing.
After 40 minutes, the games remained scoreless meaning that the Czech Republic and Russia were in the driving seat. Then, in the 47th minute, everything got put upside down. On Sunday, Greece votes to see if they want to stay in the European union. On Saturday, their long-time hero, Giorgos Karagounis made his vote as to whether or not Greece should stay in Euro 2012. He took a mishit from a throw in from nearly mid-field and then proceeded not to pass or make a run square, but attack the goal directly. How brave is that!
Russian goalie Vyacheslav Malafeev prepared for it by trusting his defenders. Mistake. It was essentially him facing Karagounis 1v1 as soon as Giorgos went into the box. I teach my goalies that when faced with an open player dribbling towards you that they have no other choice but to tackle the runner. Malafeev was in perfect position if Karagounis would have not gone further forward and shot. Problem for him was that Giorgos kept advancing. Gift for Giorgos that Malafeev stayed put. Karagounis decided to shoot the ball before he could change his mind and hit it to Malafeev's right and put the ball side net. Want to see if there is any national pride left in Greece? Watch the celebration after the goal.
At halftime, if the game was over, we would have had Greece and Russia into the quarterfinals for Poland and the Czech Republic were still scoreless. Kind of silly to think things would just stay unchanged with all of this pressure though. Russia, if they could score, would ensure that they were still in the running to advance. Poland still had to win. The Czech Republic had to win now for in a three way tie, they were the odd-team out.
Second half starts and it is all or none now. In the 61st minute, controversy struck. Karagounis had the ball in the box again, and this time he was clipped by Russian center defender Sergei Ignashevich. I am glad that referees are looking for divers and willing to card them. However, thanks to slow-motion cameras, it was clear that Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson was wrong. Karagounis was carded for diving and will have to sit out if Greece advances. How sad.
Karagounis was livid but perhaps that inspired Greece for the barrage they were going to get from Russia. Meanwhile, as time continued to march on, both the Poles and the Czechs were on the way to elimination. Poland, after an emotional day of national pride, kept on pressing. Two yellow-cards later the score was still 0-0. Time kept on going. The Greece game saw the Greeks doing what they excel at.... defending. Russia became frustrated and continued to attack, but they kept missing shot after shot. 70 minutes in and it was looking like Greece and Russia would advance.
Then in the 72nd minute, things turned for the worse for both Russia and Poland. On a stormy night, the Czech players finally had all the ingredients together for a perfect storm. Poland's fullbacks were increasing their frequency of attack. At that moment, two of them went too far. The ball was stolen and then passed to Milan Baroš. He brought it towards the middle of the penalty box and passed the ball to Petr Jiráček who was making a run on the left. Jiráček made a square cut to the inside in order to split two defenders. He then shot before Polish goalie Przemysław Tytoń could challenge him. The ball went in and the Czech players went crazy.
So, now as it stood in the 73rd minute, Russia and Poland were out.
Poland and Russia were on the ropes. They shot and they shot. At the end, Poland seemed sure to score when captain Jakub Błaszczykowski shot to an open goal after goalie Petr Chec went out to tackle Błaszczykowski and Czech player David Limberský headed the ball wide. That was like taking a dagger to Russia's heart. Kind of ironic that Poland was in a position to help Russia after all that happened during the week.
Nevertheless, Greece and the Czech Republic get rewarded with playing the top two teams from the 'Group of Death'. They better enjoy Sunday.
I hope you enjoy Sunday as well. God Bless You.
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