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Russia knocks out Greece, 1-0

June 15, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Greece's four-year reign as European soccer champion came to an unceremonious end Saturday when Coach Otto Rehhagel's team was knocked out of Euro 2008 by Russia.

A 1-0 loss at the Wals-Siezenheim Stadium in Salzburg, Austria, signaled not only the end of an era for the Greeks but also created a bit of European Championship history.

Never before in the 48 years in which the quadrennial tournament had been played had the defending champion lost its first two games in the succeeding event.

"I am not as disappointed as all that," Rehhagel said. "Our problem is that we score so few goals."

Greece was beaten, 2-0, by Sweden in its opener and was shut out again Saturday even though Rehhagel, who won it all at Euro 2004, tinkered with his lineup and switched from an ultra-defensive formation to what was supposed to be a more attacking lineup.

It didn't work out that way, thanks to a first-half goal by Konstantin Zyryanov that came when goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis abandoned his net to chase a loose ball and gave Zyryanov the easiest of tap-ins off a pass from Sergei Semak.

The only way for Greece to salvage something from Euro 2008 is to at least try to score a goal against Group D champion Spain in its final game Wednesday.

The Spanish clinched first place in the group with the Greek loss and their 2-1 victory over Sweden on Saturday in Innsbruck, Austria. That game appeared headed for a tie after a goal by Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic had canceled out an early strike by Fernando Torres.

But David Villa snatched the winner on a breakaway in the second minute of injury time with his tournament-leading fourth goal.

Today, another team will fall by the wayside when the Czech Republic plays Turkey in Geneva, Switzerland. It is a winner-take-all affair because the teams are tied on points and goal differential. If the game ends in a tie, it will go directly to penalty kicks to decide who advances to the quarterfinals.

The Czechs have a noteworthy history when it comes to penalty shootouts at major tournaments, having won three of three and having gone 20 for 20 on their kicks.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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