GDANSK, Poland – Greece exits the European Championship with pride if not a title.
"We fought as much as we could," said Greece striker Dimitris Salpigidis, who set up Georgios Samaras' tying goal before scoring a late penalty kick. "I hope the Greeks got some encouragement from watching us fight."
The 2004 champions reached the quarterfinals, losing 4-2 to Germany on Friday in a game played out amid the eurozone crisis.
"We're Proud of You," Greek daily SportDay wrote in its banner headline on Saturday, while GoalNews added: "We owe you, and we love you."
Greece was unlikely to replicate its triumph of eight years ago, but it did spark street celebrations in Athens and other cities when it knocked Russia out of the tournament in a 1-0 upset in its final group game. It was the first real public expression of joy since the country sank into deep financial trouble in late 2009.
"We had a dream and that was what motivated us," said coach Fernando Santos, whose team has lost just three games in its last 25. "What we take away from the tournament is that we played with heart and soul — the passion."
Greece began the group stage by drawing 1-1 against tournament co-host Poland. The Greeks then looked to have thrown away their chances of advancing to the quarterfinals by losing 2-1 to the Czech Republic after conceding two goals in the opening six minutes.
Santos promptly abandoned his attacking lineup to concentrate on Greece's renowned defense. The Russians attacked it for 70 minutes in Warsaw and got nowhere.
They lost in frustration after captain Giorgos Karagounis poached the ball from the Russian defense and scored on a night he equaled a national appearance record of 120 matches.
Before Friday's game in Gdansk, Germany coach Joachim Loew compared Greece's defense to "a rock." Germany, which has won every qualifier and every Euro 2012 match so far, eventually cracked that rock, though only after Greece held off a barrage of attacks in the first half.
Despite its defeat, Greece lcan be encouraged by what it saw from its younger players.
Kyriakos Papadopoulos, a 20-year-old defender, was a standout, pairing with 23-year-old Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Yiannis Maniatis, 25, eased his way into an aging midfield while Costas Fortounis and Giorgos Tzavelas also showed promise.
"We have a young team and a good future in front of them," said veteran midfielder Costas Katsouranis, who captained the squad Friday. "I am proud to have been their captain tonight."
In Greece, people watched the Germany match at outdoor cafes in the middle of a heatwave, cheering and consoling each other on a night when the country tried to forget about the economy.
The feeling of pride in the Greek team may well last all weekend, but the debt inspectors return to Athens on Monday.