News story by: Greg Gavalas
Germany eased ominously into the semi-finals of Euro 2012 as Greece's resistance finally crumbled.
Having set out to frustrate from the off, once they fell behind to Philipp Lahm's goal just before half-time the 2004 champions were always up against it. Having equalised inspiringly through Celtic forward Giorgios Samaras the Greek’s fell back to a defensive sleep and they could not hold out for very long, goals from Sami Khedira, Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus merely reflected the dominance of the three-time winners of this tournament before Dimitris Salpigidis' late penalty was a proud end to the tournament for the team and fans.
On the four previous occasions Germany have won a last-eight encounter they have reached the final, and this performance increased the likelihood of them making it five.
For a long time in the first half it appeared they might regret a number of missed chances, but once Lahm broke the deadlock there was only going to be one winner.
Greece, who have now have never beaten their opponents in nine competitive matches, scrambled, scampered and blocked their way towards half-time only for the Germany captain to fire home a swerving effort from outside the penalty area six minutes before the break.
It allowed coach Joachim Low to breathe a little easier after making four changes from the side which beat Denmark, the most notable being handing Klose his 120th cap at the expense of three-goal Mario Gomez.
After the Lazio striker had an early effort ruled out for offside, when Michalis Sifakis had fumbled Khedira's shot, Germany laid siege to Greece's goal.
Excellent movement and passing had the Greeks manning a determined rearguard effort, but even when that was breached Mesut Ozil shot weakly at Sifakis after being set up by the impressive Reus, who had already sliced one shot wide.
Klose failed to get on the end of Reus' cross-shot and Khedira had Sifakis scrambling with another shot before Lahm made the 39th-minute breakthrough, the left-back cutting in from an advanced position to smash in a swerving shot. The advantage should have been much greater, however, and Germany were made to pay 10 minutes after the break when Greece equalised.
Substitute Georgios Fotakis released Salpingidis on a quick break down the right, and when he slid over a teasing cross Samaras sent it home at the far post and through German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
They were level for only six minutes, though, instead of asking more questions of the German defence, Greece set shop in front of Sifakis goal as Khedira, Germany's supposed defensive linchpin in midfield, timed his run from deep perfectly to volley home from Jerome Boateng's assist.
Klose ensured the Greeks could not produce another 2004 upset when he powered home a header from Ozil's free-kick as Sifakis came but got nowhere near the cross, and Reus lashed in a volley off the underside of the crossbar after Klose's shot rebounded off the goalkeeper.
Salpingidis converted a late penalty, awarded for Boateng's handball on a Vasilis Torosidis cross, bring joy to the Greek fans and spirit.
Greek Match Summary
Man of the Match: Dimitris Salpigidis.Not only did he set up Samara’s goal, he also confidently converted the penalty which left Greeks around the globe proud to end the tournament on a high. Salpigidis was one of the few Greek players who formed any type of effective attacking raids on the German goal and combined well with Samaras for the goal, the scorer also deserving a mention as one of the few Greeks who looked dangerous.
Germany verdict:Another ruthless win and thoroughly deserved. Must have been particularly satisfying for Joachim Low to watch Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus - two of the three players he somewhat surprisingly brought into the side to freshen things up - both get their names on the scoresheet. The injection of energy from that aforementioned pair and fellow new boy Andre Schurrle, led to Greece's defence being completely, and constantly, flooded. Germany look an imposing prospect for the semi-finals.
Greece verdict:Did not have a single touch in their opponents' penalty area in the first half and even when Giorgios Samaras snatched a equaliser after the interval, instead of taking charge and initiative to trouble Germany in a knock out game, the team let Germany take complete control again. Defensive resiliency took them this far at Euro 2012, but Germany made their backline appear incredibly porous in Gdansk.
Can be proud of their efforts at the tournament but there was a disappointing sense of inevitability about their performance in this quarter-final - they seemed resigned to lose from the off.
Questions need to be asked about how the team was set up on the pitch and mentally. It was another game where the ethniki could have been down 1 or 2-0 in the first 10 minutes.
The zone defensive system was so deep in their own box Germany could walk well beyond half was to just start an attack, possession read 66%-34%.
A midfield set up of Katsouranis-Maniatis-Makos is three traditionally defensive midfielders, it’s no wonder Greece didn’t have a single touch in the German penalty area in a very poor first half.
There was no game plan besides defend and slow the play down. Germany passed and passed as Greece chased and chased, no one able to take charge of the ball, one thing was for sure, a certain Giorgios Karagounis was heavily missed, ironically thanks to an undeserved suspension.
Realistically you can count the attacking raids Greece raised in 90 minutes with one hand, Sotiris Ninis only played in the dreaded first half, on the right wing and although his showing was poor to say the least was never given a chance to show his worth in the centre all tournament while a static Katsouranis does.
Makos was almost an invisible centre back and Maniatis was not his usually blustering self, all points point to an invisible midfield for Greece.
The lack of midfield movement also lead to Torosidis’s wing runs been limited to the penalty his cross won for Greece. One all game. Toro was also uncharacteristically beaten one on one a few times by the Germans.
Wonder kids Ioannis Fetfatzidis didn’t get a minute’s play at the tournament leaving many fans disappointed.
On some more positives, besides Salpigidis, Samaras was by far the next best Greek player, he scored the equaliser and was a constant menace to the German defence with the ball. Was able to end the tournament on a high with his last two showings.
Some recognition needs to go to K Papadopoulos and Papastathopoulos who had to endure deep and dangerous German attacks for much of the match with little protection.
Fotakis, Gekas and Lymberopoulos made some difference when they came on.
Fotakis picked up non-existent passing game in the middle which lead to the first goal.
Gekas, thanks to better passing on the middle was able to hold the ball and distribute it out to team mates, something that never happened in the first half. Could have done better with his one chance at goal but his shot on the edge of the penalty box was well over.
Lymberopoulos, it was the statesman’s last appearance for Greece, a stellar career came to and when the final whistle went but ‘Lymbe’ can look up and be proud. He was the only centralised player that was able to hold the ball up whilst taking it forward too, leading to Torosidis’s penalty win.
Could do better: Kostas KatsouranisIt was the chance Katsouranis, like past captains Karagounis and Theodoris Zagorakis took, to make it his match and set his mark on the tournament and some romantics thought it could happen but sadly for them, Greece and stand in captain, Katsouranis, it was not to be.
After some small signs of dangerous attacks on Germany early in the game, Kastouranis and his midfield fizzled out like a shrimp on the barby as we say down under.
Failed to provide any inspiration and option to his team mates all around him.
Technically limited, his best position has seen years of debates, it was originally believed that Katsouranis was to play a more attacking role in this match but he was at best nonexistent which sums it up for him.
A mention must also go to Sotiris Ninis who, although it can be argued was played again out of position, looked very out of sorts again. His time with new club Parma in Italy’s Serie A while be a great place to develop.
Stat attack: After the game, Kostas Chalkias and Nikos Lymberopoulos both announced their International retirement.
Chalkias– a dubious call up at best ends his career with 32 caps for Greece with the veteran forward, Lymberopoulos ends with 76 caps told Greek television: “I feel blessed that I get to close this chapter among a team that are like family to me.
“It's a big honour for me. At the end of the match, I felt that I didn't want to leave the pitch. Now I will continue supporting this team as a fan.”
Lymberopoulos scored 13 goals in his international career. His 38-year-old colleague Chalkias was the oldest player at Euro 2012, making two group appearances, and was on the bench for the Germany game.
Chalkias, capped 32 times, said: “I am proud and happy to have participated in Greece's effort to reach the quarter-finals.
“This has been one of the best months of my career. Right now I am very emotional and proud – it was a dream finish for my international career.”