Shipped from abroad, Euro 2012: Team of the day, memories from Group A’s closing round

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source: Reuters

How we’ll remember …

Greece 1, Russia 0 – As our ultimate reminder these three game mini-tournaments can be quite unpredictable. Russia finished with the best goal difference in Group A, a small bit of evidence to confirm suspicions that they were the group’s best team. Of course, there is one very big piece of contradictory evidence: their third place standing. Greece goes through in second after an unimpressive yet opportunistic round robin.

Czech Republic 1, Poland 0 – As a game where the intensity never matched the stakes. You wouldn’t have known both teams needed a win to advance. From the 30th minute forward, the Czech were the better side, with their 72nd minute counter attack sending them through as unlikely group winners.

Team of the Day

G: Michalis Sifakis, Greece
LB: David Limbersky, Czech Republic
CB: Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Greece
CB: Michal Kadlec, Czech Republic
RB: Theodor Gebre Selassie, Czech Republic
DM: Tomas Hubschman, Czech Republic
M: Giorgos Karagounis, Greece
M: Kostas Katsouranis, Greece
LW: Vaclav Pilar, Czech Republic
RW: Jakub Blaszczykoswki, Poland
F: Robert Lewandowski, Poland
Subs: Tomas Sivok, Czech Republic, Roman Shirokov, Russia; Petr Jiracek, Czech Republic

Three lessons to take home

1. Embrace the randomness of the three-game mini tournament – We all know about the any give day principle. In international soccer, it’s promoted from principle to rule. Any team can beat another, especially when they get the first goal. One errant header (Sergei Ingashevich), one point of clairvoyant opportunism (Giorgos Karagounis), and you’ve got enough to get through.

Don’t let that diminish what Greece accomplished today, knocking Russia off their perch and advancing to the quarterfinals. In the opening minutes, Kostas Katsouranis’s redirection onto goal served notice. Greece weren’t just going to sit back and hope. They were taking hope into their own hands.

We see results like these all the time during league seasons and, after picking our jaws up off the floor, move on realizing these things happen. It’s only one game in a long campaign.

In these tournaments that are major final group stages, these results are one-offs, but the implications loom large within the context of a three-game season.

Russia are the Seattle Sounders. Or Arsenal. They’ve just lost to the Columbus Crew. Or Wigan Athletic. It’s surprising and they should have done better, but it’s hardly the biggest upset we’ve ever seen. In fact, these things happen.

And if they happen to you in a three-team tournament, you’re probably sunk.

2. ‘Best’ and ‘most deserving’ are two different things – Are Russia better than Greece? Probably, but these tournaments aren’t about finding out which teams’ best, no matter of the cliches have inadvertently packaged them as such. They’re about winning, and thankfully, the best team doesn’t always win. To suggest otherwise would mean we have a lot of explaining to do about the non-2004 history of Greek soccer.

It works the other way, too. Following this sport would be boring if the best team always won, but it would be disingenuous if we assumed the winner was always the best team. It’s better to recognize that over two hours on Saturday, Greece did what it took to win the game. They managed the circumstances of the match better, and while that doesn’t necessarily make them empirically better, it does make them more deserving of moving on.

And there’s no doubt: Greece is more deserving. Nothing about Russia’s performance said “we deserve to be in the final eight.” Greece played to the occasion while Russia played as if they were owed a win just by showing up.

The effort Giorgos Karagounis put forth on that goal? Effort that was match by his teammates for 90 minutes? No doubt Greece deserve their place in the quarters.

3. Don’t take people’s picks too seriously – It’s a spot number expected them to claim. Almost everybody had Greece going out at this stage of the tournament. Does that mean those prognosticators were idiots? Not any more so than it meant Greece wouldn’t make the quarterfinals.

Every site (including ours) offer predictions. They’re a lot of fun, but the best way to ruin that fun is to take them too seriously. After today, does anybody need to be reminded about sports’ beautiful variability?

Not that anybody wants to get picks wrong, but part of the charm behind Greece’s upset lies in those bad predictions. There is an against the odds subtext to their performance that undoubtedly enhances it. How do those odds come about? Predictions.

Discard predictions if you must. You’re also throwing out part of what makes Greece special.

ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.