Report By: Greg Gavalas
The opening match of Euro 2012 has produced an action packed match between host country Poland and Euro 2004 Champions Greece. Goals, a crucial missed penalty and a disgraceful refereeing display certainly caused headlines worldwide, leaving the next round 1 matches with plenty to live up to.
Surprisingly it was Greece who felt the nerves in the first half as Poland got on the front foot with an early goal to their star striker Robert Lewandowski. Thankfully for the many Greek fans around the globe, Greece came out and played with heart and direction in the second half to earn a well earned equaliser through Dimitris Salpigidis. The Greeks could have rounded a wonder opening game later in the half through Giorgios Karagounis but his penalty was saved by replacement goal keeper Premyslaw Tyton.
Greek coach Fernando Santos went with the starting 11 many expected including Kostas Chalkias in goals after much debate if he or Aris keeper Michalis Syfakis would start and the oldest player at the tournament won the judgement of Santos.
Making only his 5 th cap for Greece, Jose Holebas started at left back and was visibly the most nervous player on the field early on as the lethal Polish right side launched early attacks on the Greek left side.
It was from the Polish right hand side, after great passing that Rafal Murawski would find himself in a good position just outside the penalty box to shoot for goal and his placed shot was spectacularly saved by Chalkias.
Greece’s first chance came in the 12 th minute when a Karagounis freekick found Fanis Gekas in the box but the striker’s header was just wide of the Polish goal.
Just seconds later the Polish Borrosia Dortmund connection on the right were at it again, this time a missed hit cross from Ludovic Obraniak found Polish captain Jakub Blaszczykowski who’s snap shot sent to ball well over the Greek goal.
Poland were now well over the nerves of the occasion and their right side continued to pick on a very nervy Greek left side. In the 14 th minute, excellent play by Lukasz Piszczek saw his dangerous cross just inches away from Lewandowski’s header and Greece survived this attack but 3 minutes later they would not be so lucky.
With the Greek left side in tatters early on, a Holebas turn over only made matters worse and this time the Poles would capitalise on the mistake, more wonderful passing from the Dortmund connection saw a great cross from Blaszczykowski find a flying Lewandowski and his header flew past an outstretched Chalkias for the first goal of Euro 2012.
The goal would see Poland take their foot off the pedal and slowly slowly allowed the Greeks to get more rhythm after a very poor 20 minutes into the tournament. A well wide shot from Kostas Katsouranis in the 24 th minute didn’t do much for Greek confidence though.
Just as the game started to setting into a more even affair, Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, a no nonsense referee who’s record reads 15 red cards in 31 games during Spain’s La Liga, handed out the first yellow card to Sokratis Papastathopoulos in what would be the start of a tragic referee performance that would make headlines worldwide come full time. The first of the yellows in the 35 th minute came from a nonexistent foul as Papastathopoulos fairly fend off Lewandowski to a header.
Back to the football and Greece would be dealt their first unexpected problem when Avraam Papadopoulos pulled a hamstring and had to be replaced by the energetic 20 year old Kyrgiakos Papadopoulos, and as the Schalke defender ran on, the Polish free kick, from the nonexistent Papastathopoulos foul was not dealt well by Greece, the ball landed to Polish centre back Damian Perquis just meters from goal but the defenders shot well wide of the target in what would have been a cruel double blow for Greece.
The double blow would come in the 44 th minute. A through ball from to Poland’s Rafal Murawski saw the midfielder start falling over as Papastathopoulos was nearby ready to mark, card happy Carbello saw different though and booked the Greek defender for another nonexistent foul making it two yellow and a red card, Papastathopoulos’s tournament over unless Greece gets out of the group stage. A cruel blow for the youngster, no player deserves this mistreatment by a referee too interested in his own statistics which also read 5 yellow cards per game. The red card would anger Greek fans and football fans in general and another Euro 2008 was the feeling amongst the Greek fans by now.
More controversy would follow just 3 minutes later and again against the battling Greeks, this time nice dribbling by Sotiris Ninis made room for a cross into the box which was awkwardly met by Pirquis who then handballed the ball in the box, this time a clear penalty was waived away by the unpopular Spanish referee, it also resulted in another yellow card to a Greek player, Holebas this time.
With Greek anger at ultra high levels for players and fans, half time came to drop the blood pressure.
Santos made one change as the 2 nd half started, Dimitris Salpigidis for Ninis and the Greek team looked much more determined to get a result although it was Poland who managed the first shot goal, all be a weak one from Piszczek.
Bring on the 51 st minute and Greek jubilation as great link up play from Giannis Maniatis to Vasilis Torosidis saw the latter’s cross find Gekas amongst Polish defenders and goalkeeper which saw the ball land for a charging Salpigidis who had no problem placing the ball into the back of the net for a 1-1 score line.
Greece was looking dangerous but a Polish freekick in the 57 th minute saw Obraniak’s shot just wide of goal.
Greece was looking to really threaten the Poles now and in the 63 rd minute a great long ball from Katsouranis found Giorgios Samaras but the Celtic striker delayed his shot and with little space to work in, it was a poor final mss hit.
Another substitution for Santos and change in tactics, 19 year old Kostas Fortounis in for Gekas and Samaras moved to the striker role and the young forward to the left forward spot.
Fortounis’s first touch would send Salpigidis through on goal with just him and Wojciech Szczesny, the Polish keeper would bring down the PAOK striker and this time the referee had the right to show a red card.
Greek celebrations would turn to sorrow as captain Karagounis would see his penalty saved by substitute goal keeper Tyton to the Poles wishes. It was a horror moment for Karagounis who bleeds for the Greek jersey.
Greece would again think they were on the verge of 2-1 when another lob ball from Katsouranis found Samaras’s back and then Fortounis, the young winger whipped in a lovely low cross which Salpigidis placed home and into the back of the net but celebrations would come to a halt as Fortounis was centimetres offside from the Samaras touch.
Excellent defending from Papadopoulos in the 79 th minute denied Obraniak a good shooting chance.
The next five minutes would see both teams try their luck at long range shots with no success and the game would finish all even at 1-1.
A proud display from Greece in the 2 nd half and by no means a bore fest of football as many experts predicted.
Santos will have to work on midfield though, it needs much more movement and mobility if Greece are to challenge Russia for first place in the group, after the first two match days its clear teams need a dynamic midfield to be competitive.
Salpigidis was certainly the MVP with his inspiring performance lifting the team spirit and showing what Greece can do. Fortounis was also a great inclusion and added a spark.
Next game with the Czech Republic is a must win game if Greece want a realistic chances to progress.