The first cut was the deepest – Russia's 4-1 opening‑day victory against the Czech Republic meant they finished as top scorers in Group A while the Czechs ended up with a negative goal difference – but also the most deceptive. Russia were the ones who went home early while the Czechs went on to win the group.
Russia only had themselves to blame for going out with a whimper. They were in a position to make qualification certain in just two games when they held a 1-0 lead against Poland, only to run out of energy and ideas in what Dick Advocaat conceded was a sloppy second half, and allow the co-hosts to peg them back. That left what many imagined would be a formality against Greece in Warsaw, a match that Russia only needed to draw to go through, indeed one that given a favourable result in the other game in Wroclaw they could actually have lost and still qualified.
None of this happened, and just about the only reasonable thing Advocaat has said all week is that it was not the fault of the Czech Republic's Petr Jiracek, whose winner against Poland tore away the Russians' flimsy safety net. "The players were not aware of what was going on in the other game," the departing Russia coach said.
"We were only concentrating on our own match, because that is what any team always has to do. I thought we played well, we were quite brilliant in the first half until they got their goal, but then the Greeks defended as only Greeks can do and we could not find enough sharpness in front of goal.
"We came here to win the match, not to draw or to lose, but you can't do that if you don't score." You can't do that if you defend as sloppily as Russia did, either. They could have gone behind in the early stages when Kostas Katsouranis was unmarked at a corner and Vyacheslav Malafeev had to make a save, and the goal they conceded in the closing seconds of stoppage time was almost laughably inept at this level, especially at that stage of a scoreless game.
"It was a stupid situation to concede such a goal at such a time," said Sergei Ignashevich, whose ineffective attempt to deal with a simple throw down the line gave Giorgos Karagounis all the encouragement he needed to bear down forcefully on an unprotected goal and beat Malafeev with a confident low shot.
The Greece captain was booked in the second half for a "dive" in the Russian penalty area, a debatable and unquestionably harsh refereeing decision that puts him out of his side's quarter‑final in Gdansk on Friday, though his joy on receiving the man of the match award knew no bounds.
"That was pure magic," Karagounis said. "We have made all Greeks all over the world really happy. I'm proud that my compatriots can go out and celebrate, take a break from reality. No matter how tired we were, and we were tired, there was no chance of us conceding a goal.
"On the way home from the previous game, when we heard the Poles and Russians had drawn, we knew we had an opportunity, just a slim one. So in our final match we played for just one result, and we were decisive."
Funny he should use that word, for decisive was exactly what Russia were not. They had massive superiority in possession and territory, yet created very few clear‑cut chances. They played as if confident that if they kept knocking the ball around the edge of the Greek penalty area it would eventually find its way into the net, but the opening never arrived and Russia ended up regretting a succession of hopeful shots from distance and poorly executed final balls.
Shock this may have been, yet without a marked improvement Russia would surely not have hung around for long in the knockout stages. They looked a poor, tired team against Greece, and after supervising a 16‑match undefeated run to raise hopes for this tournament, Advocaat's last game in charge was an enormous letdown.
"Did we not play that well? I'm sorry," the enigmatic Dutchman said, not quite managing to appear upset about losing or leaving. "We went forward and the other team just defended. We should have won but we didn't. I suppose in some way I will be blamed for that, but I'm not too interested in what people say about me."