Ciaran Bonass talks us through the match highlights of the opening game of Euro 2012 which finished Poland 1 Greece 1.
It may have proved to be one of the most schizophrenic games in living memory but Euro 2012 could just have served up one of the most entertaining tournament openers of modern times to boot – what was lacking in quality was more than compensated for in drama.
The pairing of Poland and Greece had looked a bit of a damp squib on paper and were it not kicking off proceedings this summer then it’s highly likely that the game would have been largely ignored by all but the most addicted of neutrals, which seemed reasonable enough given the fact that the co-hosts hadn’t conceded a goal in over 500 minutes of football leading up to the tournament and faced a Greek side famed for their defensive strengths and who had conceded only five in their ten qualifying games.
To say the form book went out the window would be a bit of an understatement then, as a helter skelter 1-1 draw that keeps both teams well in the hunt to qualify tells little of a fascinating contest, and although it was paramount for both not to lose, neither manager will be particularly satisfied with a point as both have valid reasons to think their side would have been worthy winners. Upcoming fixtures against Russia won’t fill Polish boss Frankiszek Smuda or his opposite number Fernando Santos with optimism either as the 11/10 group favourites were true to their billing and greatly impressed during their 4-1 trouncing of the Czech Republic in the day’s other game, a result which, if anything, flattered the losers who were consistently ripped apart, almost at will, by their tormentors in red.
The earlier kick-off was bizarrely lop-sided in either half though, co-hosts Poland should really have wrapped up the points before half-time, with captain Jakob Blaszczykowski and his Borussia Dortmund team-mate Lukasz Piszczek causing havoc on the right hand side it looked to be a case of how many they would get in the first period. It was impossible to predict that the second would pan out so differently, particularly after the Poles had also benefitted from one of the most absurd dismissals ever witnessed at a major tournament when Sokratis Papasthopolous was given his marching orders for a second booking just before the break. Alas it wasn’t to be and the Poles only had Robert Lewandowski’s firm 17th minute header to show for their first half efforts, and those who backed him as the 4/1 first goalscorer were probably the only people content at that point.
But this Greek team are nothing if not resilient, and they showed fantastic character to take the game to their hosts in the second period, Santos also deserves credit for throwing Dimitris Salpingidis into the action as the substitute had scored within six minutes of his introduction, and won the penalty which resulted in a fully deserved, if blatently unnecessary, red card for goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. That penalty was missed by captain Giorgos Karagounis of course, and the decision to disallow what would have been Salpingidis’ second, and surely a late winner, was a marginal offside call, but Greece showed enough to make the pre-tournament odds of 6/4 about the 2004 champions reaching the quarter-finals look a worthy punt. For Poland their inexplicable Jekyll and Hyde performance must be of huge concern to the home faithful, but all is far from lost, and they certainly played their part in memorable contest. Game on.