Greece played the familiar role
of party-poopers by salvaging a point in a 1-1 draw with
co-hosts Poland in their opening Group A match on Friday and
nearly left with all three as they did eight years ago in
A lively, attacking game finished with both sides reduced to
10 men following the dismissals of Greek central defender
Sokratis Papastathopoulos just before half-time and Polish
goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny midway through the second.
Greece fought their way back into the game having been
outplayed by a rampant Polish side in the first period.
Striker Robert Lewandowski headed Poland ahead after 17
minutes, and the noise from over 56,000 home fans raised the
roof which was somewhat bizarrely closed because of a storm
earlier but with blue sky clearly visible above.
But Greece, showing the determination that took them to the
title in 2004, equalised six minutes after the break and grew in
stature as Poland allowed them more space and time to play.
Half-time substitute Dimitris Salpingidis forced the ball
home after Szczesny misjudged a cross but worse was to follow
for the 22-year-old keeper 19 minutes later when he tripped
Salpingidis who had rounded him and was about to score.
Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo showed him a red
card but, with the fans jeering and whistling, the first thing
replacement Przemyslaw Tyton did was save Giorgos Karagounis's
penalty, diving to his left and parrying it to safety.
The only other time there had been multiple dismissals in
the opening game was in 1976 when Czechoslovakia played
Netherlands and three players were sent off.
"I've told the players to cheer up, it would be much worse
if we lost the game," said Poland coach Franciszek Smuda.
"We should not concentrate on this. There was a lot of
pressure on my very young team, we did not have the experience
of the Greek side."
Salpingidis added: "We got off to a very bad start, were a
bit unlucky but we managed to turn it around because this team
has soul and our Greek soul is above football, it is above
Greece scored a penalty when they beat Portugal 2-1 in the
opening match of Euro 2004, but a repeat of that scoreline would
have been unfair on the Poles, who started well but allowed
their opponents to dominate in the later stages.
The resigned look on Smuda's face at the final whistle said
it all. He knew his team had blown their chance of a first ever
victory at the finals after wasting almost all their chances in
a one-sided first half when Greece were dreadful.
The opening stages, though, gave little indication that the
end result would be anything other than a Polish victory.
With Lukasz Piszczek overlapping down the left, skipper
Jakub Blaszczykowski having the freedom of the right and Ludovic
Obraniak forcing his way through the middle, Poland were in
Lewandowski, the third-highest scorer in the Bundesliga this
season with Borussia Dortmund, had two sniffs of goal before
opening the scoring when he powerfully headed home a cross from
Blaszczykowski with Greece keeper Kostas Chalkias floundering.
Defender Damien Perquis should have done better with a
chance to double the lead but, although they did not add to
their tally before halftime, Poland seemed to be on their way to
a win after central defender Papastathopoulos was sent off.
It was a harsh red though as his two bookings were clumsy at
worst and did not even appear to be intentional fouls.
The first was for a challenge on Lewandowski which appeared
totally innocuous and the second for a foul on Rafal Murawski
who was falling even before the Greek defender touched him.
Greece finished the game without either of their
first-choice centre halves having lost Avraam Papadopoulos to
Poland's next match is against group favoourites Russia on
June 12 while Greece face the Czech Republic on the same night
and both will have to play a lot better than they did if they
are to have any real chance of advancing from the section.
For Poland, now the build-up and expectation is over and
they have a competitive game under their belts for the first
time in two years, Smuda knows the task ahead.
He has to ensure, that if they get control of a match at the
start they must maintain their dominance to the end.
Greece, though highly unlikely to repeat their 2004 triumph,
have proved, after coming through the qualifiers unbeaten and
avoiding defeat here, that they are nobody's pushovers.
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