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Euro 2012 Match Report: Poland, Greece Share the Spoils in the Opening Game

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Euro 2012 Match Report: Poland, Greece Share the Spoils in the Opening Game
Michael Steele/Getty Images
Lewandowski scores the opening goal of Euro 2012

The red and white of Poland adorned the National Stadium in Warsaw for the beginning of a tournament that seemed like it had taken an interminable amount of time to arrive.

The Greeks, much akin to their fiscal standing within the Eurozone, had very little support for their cause.

In the build-up to Euro 2012, the Panorama documentary entitled ''Stadiums of Hate'' had highlighted a chilling and worrying presence of Neo-Nazism in the host country.

With all the uncomfortable negatives highlighted pre-tournament, it was time to focus on the positives at hand and the first game of Group A provided plenty of them.

Immediately, Poland did not display the nerves associated with the expectations of the home support.

Contrastingly, Greece looked uncharacteristically disorganised from the outset.

From the beginning Poland bombed forward, time and again down the right hand side of the pitch presenting an early chance to Murawski from a well-controlled Lewandowski ball.

The Borussia Dortmund striker's movement and pace was to be a recurring nightmare for a Greek defence that looked devoid of the poise demonstrated in their Euro 2004 winning side.

The breakthrough inevitably came down the right as Robert Lewandowski met a Błaszczykowsk cross with a pinpoint downward header to send the partisan Polish crowd into frenzy.

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The Greek strategy seemed to be built upon a solid defensive effort but once the initial goal was conceded, they seemed devoid of a plan B.

Their first chance came in the 24th minute when Kostas Katsouranis received the ball in space but his shot failed to find the target.

The biggest turning point of the game came with the harsh sending off of Sokratis Papastathopoulos for a second yellow card.

He became only the second player to be sent off in the opening game of a UEFA European Championship. Patrik Andersson provides the only precedent, dismissed for two yellow cards as Belgium beat Sweden 2-1 in Brussels to bring the curtain up on Euro 2000.

The second half started much like the first with Poland in control of the ball and dominant in possession.

The first chance fell to the opening goal scorer, Lewandowski, who fired over from inside the 18 yard box after good work down the right.

The mark of a good manager is the decisions he makes when they're most called for. Fernando Santos' decision to bring on Dimitris Salpingidis had an immediate impact.

The Greek forward pounced on a cross that neither Poland keeper Wojciech Szczęsny nor Greece's Fanis Gekas could make a full contact with, to draw the teams level.

 

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Dimitris Salpigidis celebrates his historic goal for Greece.

In doing so he became the first player in Greek footballing history to score in both a World Cup and European Championship.

It took until the 63rd minute for the next real opportunity when Giorgos Samaras was played in magnificently by Kostas Katsouranis, but he sliced the ball wide of the left post from close range.

Six minutes later, Poland's numerical advantage was erased as Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny was shown a straight red for bringing down the substitute Dimitris Salpingidis.

The ensuing penalty played out like a Greek tragedy as captain Karagounis, on his 118th cap, placed the ball to the right of the goal only to see it magnificently saved by replacement keeper Przemysław Tytoń.

With the numbers equal and more space available on the pitch, the game became disjointed and ragged with chances coming for both Samaras and Lewandowski.

Poland's impressive work down the right throughout the first half was disappointingly absent for the remaining 40 minutes of the second half.

Heading into the final five minutes, neither team could assert themselves enough to secure the three points that would edge them closer to qualification from Group A.

A Polish corner in the 91st minute came to nothing and would prove to be the last chance for either team and in a highly engaging opening game.

While the contest may not have been high on quality for the most part, the two red cards, penalty miss and all the drama that went with it made for an enthralling clash.

Russia and Czech Republic lock horns next and will have a lot to live up to in terms of entertainment though we can expect a more technically proficient showcase all round.

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