Poland 1-1 Greece: Szczesny Disaster Hands Greece A Point

Before the matches which signalled the start of EURO 2012 kicked off, one could only think back two years, to the first day of the 2010 World Cup. That day had seen two very tight encounters end in draws, as all the sides involved feared the effects of a defeat so early in the tournament. The same mentality would carry through many of the remaining group stage games and even when the tournament got going a little more in the following rounds, margins were still minimal and games closed and rigid. There was a widespread worry that the same would happen at this tournament, rather than follow in the footsteps of the fantastic EURO 2008. Based solely on the first game, our fears were unfounded.

 

Although after a less than riveting first half, between hosts Poland and EURO 2004 winners Greece, it looked as though we would be subject to an opening round like the one we had seen two years previously. Poland were comfortably on top, creating the bulk of the chances. This appeared to be working well after they went ahead through a  Robert Lewandowski goal, which was beautifully created down Poland’s ever-threatening right-hand side by the combination of Ludovic Obrainak and Jakub Blaszczykowski. Greece looked like their 2004 side, only without the defensive resoluteness which made them formidable. This looked only as though it would worsen after the, by all accounts, harsh red card awarded to Sokratis Papastathopolous. The first yellow was a poor decision by Carlos Velaso Caballo after he judged the Greek defender to have fouled Lewandowski in an aerial duel he won completely fairly; the second, with the first taken into account, was mystifying. Lewandowski played a through ball towards his Borussia Dortmund teammate Blaszczykowski and under a very slight challenge from the Genoa man, he went over. It was clear to see that the contact in the challenge had been minimal and even then, on the first game of a big tournament, the referee should know better and show more leniency when the player is already on a yellow card. Alas, he did not, and Sokratis was forced to leave the field. Some accused the referee of having ‘ruined the contest’ but with hindsight, he did quite the opposite.

 

After half time, Greece managed to recover their discipline, which they looked in danger of collectively losing, and being a man and a goal down, they would need to change something in the way of personnel. Winger Sotiris Ninis (Football Manager hero) was replaced by striker Dimitris Salpingidis. Greece looked to be more direct and from here, the game really started. Within five minutes, Greece were level through the substitute. Vasilis Torosidis launched a cross towards Theofanis Gekas, but his header was blocked. Polish ‘keeper Wojciech Szczesny had thrown himself at the ball, but with the block, his presence was needless and he was now out-of-position; enough so for Salpingidis to storm forward and stab the ball into the empty net.

 

Both teams were now in need of a goal but in contrast to the first half, it was Greece who were on the front foot and looking the likelier to claim the lead. Another high through ball sent a Greek forward through on goal, with only the goalkeeper to beat. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your allegiance), that striker was Georgios Samaras. The score remained 1-1, and there may have been a head injury for the poor soul in Row Z whom it probably hit. Their best chance was a few minutes later, in the form of a penalty. Salpingidis caught out the defender who failed to hold the offside trap, latching onto Kostas Fortounis’ wonderful chipped through ball and advanced towards the now-exposed Szczesny’s goal. The Arsenal ‘keeper tripped the Greek striker, conceded a penalty and received a red card. Przemyslaw Tyton was to take his place, earning just his sixth cap in the process. Greece captain Georgios Karagounis was to take the penalty. And with his first touch, Tyton saved it, sparing Szczesny and attaining some (perhaps temporary) cult status. This miss did not stifle Greece and they continued to attack, having a goal – scored by Salpingidis – rightly disallowed for offside. The game ended 1-1 , but it was an enthralling start to the tournament. While quality was lacking (as expected, given the contestants), entertainment was the order of the day. Well, in the second half, at least.

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