Euro 2012 kicked off with a bang as the opening game served up something for everyone. Two goals from comedy goalkeeping errors, a controversial sending off, a cast-iron sending off, a saved penalty and an inspired substitution gave more memorable moments than most opening games put together. Poland started strongly with Jakub Blaszczkowski, Robert Lewandowski and Rafal Murawski all testing the Greek defence, with Costas Chalkias tipping the latter’s effort over the bar. Lukasz Piszczek puts in a great low cross for Lewandowski, but Vassilis Torosaidis does just enough to keep the Polish number nine from making contact, but it only takes seventeen minutes for the co-hosts to take the lead. Ludovic Obraniak finds space on the right, and feeds the ball so that Blaszczkowski can complete the run. Blaszczkowski puts in an outstanding cross, which deceives the defence, and tempts the Greek keeper Chalkias into coming out too far, and too late, and it allows an unmarked Lewandowski to power a header into the empty net. It’s exactly the start a home side needs in tournament like this. Poland 1 Greece 0.
After the goal, both defences push up – the Greeks in order to stem the flow of Polish efforts, and the Poles, in order to protect their lead. With Greece just playing with Theofanis Gekas up front, they find it difficult to create anything, and only four of their players make it into their final third of the pitch, outside of their two corners in the fortieth minute. In the meantime they try to break up play, making the most of Avraam Papadopoulos’s injury in trying to slow down the hosts. Papadopulos eventually makes way for his namesake Kyriakos, minutes after Sokratis Papastathopoulos gets harshly booked by the Spanish referee Carlos Velsaco Carballo for beating the goalscorer in the air. While Greece are reorganizing after the substitiution, Poland have a great chance to make it two, when a freekick is headed down by Lewandowski straight in the path of centre-half Damien Perquis, who screws his effort wide, but in his defence, he was probably put off by Jose Holebas. The only other major incident of the first half comes in the last two minutes of the first half. Papastathopoulos blocks Murawksi, as the Pole tries to turn, and Velasco Carballo produces a second yellow card. Every tournament has an early ridiculous sending off, but it’s been a long time since one came in the opening match. Greece have a vain handball claim in injury time when the ball hits Perquis’ hand when he’s on the ground in the penalty area, but the referee correctly waves it away, booking Holebas for his protestations. Co-commentator Mark “Bright” makes the comment that official behind the goal does nothing, when the only signal they can give is to press a button on the baton that they carry that only alerts the referee.,
The Greeks begin the second half by introducing Dimitris Salpingidis for the ineffective Sotiris Ninis, and the substitute makes an almost immediate impact, and gets on the scoresheet in six minutes. A nice move down the Greek right involving Kostas Katsouranis, Ioannis Maniatis sees Vasilis Torisidis putting in a cross towards Gekas, and Marcin Wasilewski does enough to block the ball, but he takes it away from Wojcech Szczesny, who was as indecisive as Chalkias was in the first hald, and Salpingidis is first to loose ball, and he pokes it home. Poland 1 Greece 1.
It’s a great score for Greece, and they look to slow the game down, and earn what up to that point was an unlikely point. The second half is mainly about possession, without ever descending into tedium, or scrappiness. The Greeks look a lot more organized than they did in the first period, while Poland are patient, knowing that it would only take a small relapse of to present their attack with an opportunity. However, halfway through the second half, Greek coach Fernando Santos senses that there could still be a chance on the counter, and introduces young forward Kostas Fortounis for Gekas. Gekas may not have provided much, other than distraction for the goal, but he has worked had upfront on his own. Within a minute of the youngster’s introduction, Greece have penalty. Fortunis’ first touch is a deft chip, which beats the entire Polish defence. Salpigidis is through, he controls the ball perfectly, and Szczesny cannot pull away fast enough and trips Salpigidis. This time the referee has no choice, and he pulls out the red card. There are no complaints from the Polish keeper, and Szczesny walks, and he becomes the one and only keeper to be sent off in the opening match of a European Championship. Poland bring on second choice keeper Przemyslaw Tyton for Maciej Rybus, and with his first touch, he saves the penalty, hit low by Giorgios Karagounis. It’s not the end of the drama, as Giorgios Samaras wins a header in the penalty area (despite being fouled) which lands at the feet of Fortounis wide left, who provides the perfect cross for Salpigidis to knock the ball home, only for the assistant referee to spot Fortounis marginally offside. While Salpigidis will get all the plaudits for his second half showing, Fortounis has had an excellent cameo, and shows that at the age of nineteen, the young Kaiserslautern forward has an excellent future in the game. It’s pretty much the end of the chances though, as both sides struggle to create the final ball, with Lewandowski’s shot into the side netting, and Katsouranis firing over his own bar the closest we come to a winner in the last quarter of an hour. It’s a much better opening game than we usually get, but the Greeks will be much happier with the result, especially considering the situation they were in at half time. Poland should have wrapped the game up by half time, but never really settled in the second half, and but for Tyton’s penalty save would have nothing for their efforts.
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