After months of anticipation, the world witnessed another European Championship kickoff in grand style as the co-hosts, Poland, started the proceedings against the champions of the 2004 Euros, Greece.
As expected, Poland had their fair share of “-skis” with Marcin Wasilewski, Eugen Polanski, Rafael Murawski, Jakub “Kuba” Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski gracing the starting line-up with notable football figureheads like Sebastien Boenisch, Lukasz Piszczek, Ludovic Obraniak and Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny on display. Had the likes of Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski and Laurent Koscielny opted for Poland, this would have been one hell of a squad.
Greece on the other hand, had the “-s” suffix on every name with notable stars like Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Giorgos Karagonis, Kostas Katsouranis, Theofanis Gekas and the Jesus lookalike, Giorgois Samaras donning the Blue outfit.
The game was an enthralling encounter from start to finish, as both nations worked their skins off despite being on the guidance of a card-happy Spanish referee who is believed to have brandished 16 red cards in 19 Liga BBVA games.
There was so much hype surrounding Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski, who has been on the radar of many European predators after his 30-goal haul last season.
Caution was thrown to the wind at the start of the game, but the Poles almost drew first blood when the Dortmund connection was on the spotlight. Lukasz Piszczek’s drilled effort headed straight to Lewandowski but the center forward failed to connect.
Rafal Murawski tested the Greek goalie from some distance but the man between the sticks was up to the challenge. On the other end, Theofanis Gekas nodded the ball just wide off the mark.
The opening goal of the European Championship was from Dortmund with love as "Kuba" and Piszczek terrorized the Greek rearguard before feeding Lewandowski an inch-perfect cross that was finished aplomb with a blistering header.
There was euphoria at the stands as Red became the color flashed everywhere while the folks on Blue were sunken to their seats.
There was some concern in the Greek camp as Avraam Papadopoulos picked up an injury. His replacement, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, made a panicky clearance that wasn’t punished by Damien Perquis. A relatively bad day went worse for the Greeks as their best defender by a far mile, Sokratis Papastathopoulos picked up a second booking to earn himself an early shower just before the halftime mark.
The Greek manager tweaked his tactical setup, replacing Sotiris Ninis with Dimitris Salpingidis; a move that was worth its weight in gold.
Seconds into the restart, a simple cross into Poland’s danger area saw Szczesny and Marcin Wasilewski saw the goalie have a 2011 Carling Cup moment to allow Salpingidis slam his effort to an unguarded net.
It’s worth noting that the commentators decided to add "Arsenal" into the mix after that howler. When Szczesny was making good saves, the man with the microphone yelled,
“Great save from the Polish goalkeeper”
After the cock-up with Wasilewski, the commentator shrieked,
“What a howler from the Arsenal goalkeeper!”
Despite having the numerical advantage, Poland acted like Gervinho in the final third, and credit must go to Greece for absorbing the host’s pressure Roberto di Matteo style.
Georgios Samaras had a stinker all game long but he epitomized it by killing a bird in the sky when it seemed easier to score.
Szczesny’s confidence level was certainly rocked by that mix-up with his defender, but his bad day went a whole lot worse when he blatantly infringed Salpingidis in the box, earning himself a straight red card.
Szczesny took the long walk of shame to the locker room with his nation. Arsenal fans and the world at large witnessed the spectacle, but some blame must be given to the atrocious Polish defense that was found wanting, allowing Salpingidis to lurk around unmarked.
With Lukasz Fabianski out of the mix thanks to his shoulder injury, Przemyslaw Tyton "prepared for immortality" as he went between the sticks. His first contribution to the pitch was a daunting task of stopping Georgios Karagounis’ penalty.
The young lad earned himself a cult-hero status for the day with a brilliant save from a poor penalty, but Szczesny’s reaction in the dressing room was epic to say the least.
That miss took the sting off the Greek side, but they tried their best only to see a goalscoring effort disallowed in the 75th minute. The game eased off in the dying moments as both nations shared the spoils in an epic battle.
I intend to rate only the Arsenal players in action; Wojciech Szczesny got a 3.0 in my opinion. It’s a performance he’ll want to forget quickly and he must be thankful to Przemyslaw Tyton for sparing his blushes.
Elsewhere at the Wroclaw Municipal Stadium, two Gunners locked horns against each other. It was also heartwarming to know that these Gunners lead their nations respectively.
Zenit’s Vyacheslav Malafeev was preferred to Igor Akinfeev in goal while Yuri Zhirkov, Alexey Berezutskiy, Sergey Ignashevich and Alex Anyukov completed the back line. Other prominent names in the Russian starting line-up were Roman Shirokov, Igor Denisov, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, the sought-after Alan Dzagoev and Arsenal’s much-maligned Andrey Arshavin.
The Czech Republic’s team was a shadow of the side that had one of the most feared midfields in Europe in the yesteryear. I was deeply in love with that golden midfield that had Tomas Galasek as the holding midfielder, Karel Poborsky and Vladimir Smicer providing wit down the flanks while Tomas Rosicky and Pavel Nedved supplied beanpole Jan Koller with the fire power he needed.
However, Tomas Rosicky is the only surviving cog in that midfield engine. He’s currently supported by Jaroslav Plasil, Vaclav Pilar, Petr Jiracek and Jan Rezek. Euro 2004 Czech hero, Milan Baros, spearheaded the attack alone while Chelsea’s Petr Cech was the last line of defense.
The game began in a frantic fashion as both sides pressed each other a lot with the end result being a host of infringements conceded. Tomas Rosicky tried to summon his 2006 FIFA World Cup spirit to blast an effort reminiscent of his wonder strikes against the United States, but his speculative effort went high and wide.
The Czechs were put to the sword as a fluid counter attack from the Russians launched by Alan Dzagoev arrived in Aleksandr Kerzhakov’s path. His effort smashed Cech’s post. However, Dzagoev was on hand to blast the rebound home to hand the Russians the lead. Dzagoev executed a defense-splitting pass to Kerzhakov, but the forward’s shooting boots were clearly missing as he slammed his effort to the side netting.
Andrey Arshavin turned on the screw and upped his game, creating chances for his teammates as well as being ubiquitous on the pitch. The diminutive Assassin tore the Czech defense with a through pass to Roman Shirokov that scored a goal with a cheeky lob-effort over Cech. That was a goal Carlos Vela would have been proud of.
Kerzhavov had a very poor game by his standards as he kept spurning chances as they kept coming. The Czech injected some life into their game in the second half, and they got the goal their play deserved when Jaroslav Plasil’s pass cut the Russian defense like a hot knife on butter to Vaclav Pilar, who rounded the keeper to make it 2-1.
The goal swung the pendulum to the Czech’s direction but Kerzhakov compounded his misery by breaking the offside trap to go through on goal. His effort was shameful to say the least. He had two more clear-cut chances to take his attempt on goal tally to seven, which turned out to be the last straw as Roman Pavlychenko came in instead minutes later.
Russia was almost made to rue Kerzhakov’s spurned chances as Theodor Gebre Selassie fired a superb volley that rocked the side netting. Rosicky almost got an equalizer to his side when he blasted a shot goal-wards, but Malafeev was equal to the challenge.
The next goal was certainly going to be the most important, and it was Alan Dzagoev that got it after being on the end of some intricate passing before slamming his effort past the hapless Cech in goal.
Pavlychenko added some gloss to the scoreline with a shot that slammed the roof. At 4-1, the Czechs looked really downhearted, but it was not less than they deserved. Had a striker like Pavlychenko received half of the chances that Kerzhakov did, we might have had a mammoth scoreline on our hands.
Yesterday’s result also extends Russia’s unbeaten streak to a 15th successive match. This is their longest non-losing streak in 16 years. Between 1995 and 1996, they stayed unbeaten in 17 successive matches – a streak that was ended at the 1996 European Championships, when they lost their opening match 2-1 to Italy. Of the other teams competing at Euro 2012, only France is currently on a longer unbeaten run (21 matches).
Andrey Arshavin gets a rating of 8.5 for imperious performance against the Czechs. Tomas Rosicky on the other hand, gets a 7.0 by my books.