Greece vs. Poland: 6 Things We Learned from Euro 2012 Opener

Michael Cummings@MikeCummings37World Football Lead WriterJune 8, 2012

Greece vs. Poland: 6 Things We Learned from Euro 2012 Opener

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    Neither deserved it in the end, but in the end we might look back on this as the beginning of something special.

    Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland drew 1-1 with 2004 winners Greece on Friday at Warsaw's National Stadium. And after a series of shocks, twists and sending-offs, it was probably the right result.

    Both teams had chances to win the match, both teams had a player sent off, and neither will be totally satisfied with the result.

    But for the fans, there are only positives.

    Another major tournament has begun, and after its first match, we're already expecting nothing less than relentless excitement.

    Here are six things we learned from Poland's draw with Greece.

Classic Potential

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    The potential was already there before the tournament began: Euro 2012 had all the ingredients to be a classic.

    Friday's curtain-raiser did little to disabuse us of that notion.

    Poland started brightly, as expected, feeding off a boisterous home crowd and taking a deserved lead through Robert Lewandowski in the 17th minute.

    In the 44th minute, Greece found themselves down to 10 men thanks to what was a ridiculous—there is no other word—decision by Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, who sent off central defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos for two offenses totally unworthy of bookings.

    Papastathopoulos received his first yellow card nine minutes earlier for a challenge that appeared unworthy of even a whistle. He heard marching orders, ludicrously, when Rafal Murawski slipped and fell.

    Unmoved by Papastathopoulos' protests, Carballo brandished another yellow card and seemingly killed the game as a spectacle.

    Not so.

    Greece equalized improbably in the second half through substitute Dimitrios Salpingidis's first contribution to the match. The 2004 winners then had a chance to win the match when Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny was sent off (correctly, this time) for a challenge in his own box.

    The final twist came when backup Polish keeper Przemyslaw Tyton saved Giorgos Karagounis' 71st-minute penalty. It was Tyton's first touch after replacing Szczesny.

    Got all that?

    Good. Now get ready for a whole month of the same.

Greece: Just Go with It

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    The Greeks don't make sense, and you shouldn't worry about that.

    Just go with it, and the magical mystery tour will roll happily along. Consider the absurdity of the situation for coach Fernando Santos and his vowel-happy All-Stars.

    After falling behind in the 17th minute, Greece lost one central defender, Avraam Papadopoulos, to injury. Seven minutes later, the other, Sokratis Papastathopoulos was walking off the pitch after receiving his second yellow card.

    By that time, Poland should have been two goals ahead (I'm staring in your direction, Damien Perquis), and the co-hosts were starting to look like a trendy dark-horse pick for the knockout stages.

    Greece, for their part, played awful defense, lost their midfield shape and appeared toothless in the attack. As the first half closed, 2004 felt like a million years ago.

    Then, the magic was back.

    Don't try to provide a neat explanation either. Suddenly, Greece looked better—much better—with 10 men than they ever had with 11. And suddenly, substitute Dimitrios Salpingidis was equalizing out of absolutely nowhere.

    They could have won it, too, but Giorgos Karagounis' penalty was poor.

    It's probably just as well, anyway. Even for Greece, that would have been a bit bonkers.

About the Referee

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    We always profess such shock when referees perform poorly.

    The truth of it, however, is that Carlos Velasco Carballo's performance Friday wasn't all that out of the ordinary. Put simply, referees can stink even at the highest level.

    Koman Coulibaly demonstrated the lesson memorably for American fans two years ago, but further examples abound.

    Make no mistake, though—Carballo was poor on Friday. His decision to send off Papastathopoulos was farcical, as was his decision to book the Greek defender in the first place.

    Don't think for a moment, though, that we've seen the final bad call of the 2012 Euro Championship.

Heroes in Unlikely Places

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    Move over, Brad Jones. You have company.

    This summer, Euro 2012 will turn men into heroes and goats. As Friday showed, the heroes aren't always who you think they'll be.

    As Poland's backup keeper, Przemyslaw Tyton had touched the ball exactly zero times when he faced Greece's Giorgos Karagounis in a second-half penalty duel with the match on the line.

    But Tyton saved well, and saved easily, earning himself a place in Euro lore for all time. Karagounis' penalty was below standard, but the save was still quite an accomplishment for a keeper who entered the situation cold.

    Now, Tyton's big save has raised a question. Beside the foul that led to his sending off, Szczesny also erred in allowing Greece's opening goal.

    So is it appropriate to at least wonder whether Szczesny will be Poland's starting keeper in the final group game?

Piszczek the Menace

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    Poland dominated the first half, and one of the co-hosts' most dangerous attackers was right fullback Lukasz Piszczek.

    Piszczek, 27, was integral over the past two seasons in Borussia Dortmund's run to consecutive Bundesliga titles. On Friday, he showed the Euro 2012 audience why he's so valuable.

    Athletic, fast and consistently dangerous in the attack, Piszczek menaced Greece's left side for the entire opening 45.

    For Poland to advance, he'll need to show much more of the same—though for the full 90 minutes.

Lewandowksi a Star

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    Piszczek wasn't the only Borussia Dortmund star shining brightly for Poland.

    Robert Lewandowski, a 23-year-old forward, scored the opening goal—an excellently downward-angled header—and played well, like Piszczek, for most of the first half.

    He faded somewhat in the second half, but Lewandowski showed why Manchester United would be interested in his services.

    With 15 goals now in 44 international appearances, Lewandowski is becoming almost irreplaceable for Poland.