Host nation Poland were held to a 1-1 draw by Greece, as Euro 2012 got underway in Warsaw. A second half Dimitris Salpingidis goal cancelled out Robert Lewandowski’s opener as both sides finished with ten men in an entertaining opening fixture.
After much hype and anticipation, the tournament kicked off in front of a packed-out crowd – with the majority backing Poland. The Greeks recovered from a nightmare first half to salvage a draw and were unlucky not to snatch a win after Giorgios Karagounis had a late penalty saved by replacement goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton.
The host nation were the fancied team before kick-off, with the effective trio of Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski and striker Lewandowski – all fresh from guiding Borussia Dortmund to their second successive Bundesliga title - within their ranks.
Despite some early spells of possession from the 2004 winners, it was the hosts who created the opening chances of the match. Right-back Piszczek burst down the flank and picked out Lewandowski with his cross, the frontman couldn’t quite get his shot away but the ball fell to Rafal Murawski whose 20-yard shot was well tipped over by Greek goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias.
Poland continued to surge forward, particularly down the right hand side, looking dangerous and flooding crosses into the Greek box. Ludovic Obraniak created an opportunity when his cutback was met by the captain Blaszczykowski, who should have done better than firing his shot high into the stands of the national stadium.
Moments later, Poland were a few inches away from grabbing the illusive lead. Again Piszczek took advantage of some poor Greek defending and burst into the box, drilled a cross to Lewandowski in the six-yard box, but the star striker couldn’t quite connect with the cross.
The momentum was very much with the host nation, so it came as no surprise when they took advantage of all their early pressure. Blaszczykowaski whipped in an excellent cross from the right, which was met and dispatched clinically by the head of Lewandowski for the opening goal of Euro 2012. Question marks remain over Chalkias, who came to collect the cross but got nowhere near it.
Poland soon had an excellent chance to double their advantage amid some very poor defending by Greece. After Sokratis Papastathopoulos was cautioned for a challenge on Lewandowski, Blaszczykowski floated a ball into the box which fell to Damien Perquis, however the French-born centre-back could only drive wide when really he should have scored.
The opening game also saw the first red card of the tournament, in controversial circumstances. Papastathopoulos was given his marching orders for a harsh second yellow card for an apparent foul challenge on Marawski, when the Pole appeared to have slipped.
The Greeks were incredibly poor in the first half, but Salpingidis came on and changed the course of the game. Firstly the substitute got the Greek’s back into the game by scoring the equaliser, pouncing on a mistake by Wojciech Szczesny. The Arsenal keeper rushed out of his goal to try and reach a chest-high cross but got nowhere near it, only to see Salpingidis convert an easy opportunity.
Greece began to build on their good start to the second half, and should have taken the lead when Celtic striker Georgios Samaras was put clean through on goal, but the striker couldn’t keep control of the ball and sliced his shot well wide.
The turning point in the game came midway through the second half when Salpingidis again got involved, this time being brought down by Szczesny in the penalty area when clean through on goal. The goalkeeper was given his marching orders, cue substitute goalkeeper Tyton’s chance to make a name for himself. Tyton duly obliged, doing well to keep out Karagounis’s tame penalty.
The hosts were beginning to show signs that the pressure and weight of expectation from the home following was getting to them. Greece looked to take advantage of this when that man again Salpingidis stabbed the ball into the net, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.
Attacks became few and far between in the final stages of the match, with the fast pace of the game visibly slowing. Referee Carlos Velasco Carballo called time on what was an entertaining opening game of Euro 2012, and very much a game of two halves.