Tyton takes his place among Polish gods
Poland 1 Greece 1: Penalty save gives hosts a valuable point against Greeks in dramatic opening match
The National Stadium
Saturday 09 June 2012
How's this for a first touch? Przemyslaw Tyton, the PSV Eindhoven goalkeeper, replaces the sent-off Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal and immediately faces a penalty taken by Giorgos Karagounis, the captain of Greece. He dives to his left and saves. The roar almost takes the roof off Poland's new National Stadium.
The joint hosts took the lead through a raging header from Robert Lewandowski and looked certain to take command when Sokratis Papastathopoulos became the first of two players dismissed by Carlos Velasco Carballo. This was just before half-time. But Greece equalised within six minutes of the resumption after a mix-up involving Szczesny and suddenly the face of events was changed, even more so when Szezcsny tripped Greece's scorer, the substitute Dimitris Salpingidis, leaving the referee no option but the spot and red card.
It might have been worse for Poland, because the offside call that denied Salpingidis later was dubious. But they survived and will hope to put on another show against Russia on Tuesday.
Even those of us who tend to regard an opening ceremony in much the same way as toothache, there being only degrees of awfulness, found it hard not to enjoy elements of Warsaw's effort, especially the coming together of human petals to make a flower.
Every Pole in the crown-shaped stadium seemed to be belting out the national anthem, even the allegedly plastic ones amid the line of players to whom Jan Tomaszewski, the Wembley hero of old, had so scathingly referred in the tournament build-up.
There was an encouraging start, too, when Rafal Murawski tried a gentle chip that Kostas Chalkias had to move smartly to touch over. The momentum kept building and Lukasz Piszczek, after marauding down the right, missed the head of his Borussia Dortmund clubmate Lewandowski by inches in the goalmouth. It proved a sign of the wonderful thing to come: a header by Lewandowski of such power and accomplishment that the goalkeeper's accurate guess was futile.
This time the cross was from Jakub Blaszczykowski, and from wider on the right, but Lewandowski had bet on a fine delivery from his other Dortmund colleague and knew exactly what to do, nodding it downwards so that the ball bounced under Chalkias's dive, its velocity making light of a range of 12 yards. Little over a quarter of an hour had gone and the tournament had the boost it needed. The crowd exploded.
Poland remained dangerous, probing at error-prone Greek defenders who were lucky that Damien Perquis screwed an excellent chance wide. But soon afterwards Papastathopoulos, having earlier incurred a rather harsh yellow card after an aerial challenge, saw a thoroughly merited second for barging Murawski over.
The Greeks were further dismayed by the referee's inability to discern intent in the grounded Perquis's brushing of an arm against the ball in the penalty area – it appeared a good decision given that the defender had his back to the ball – and then a yellow card shown to José Holebas. Greece were not only trailing and a man down but losing composure. At least the interval, at which Sotiris Ninis was replaced by Salpingidis, came at a good time for them.
Poland's job now was simply to coax them out of a 4-4-1 formation. Or so it seemed. The joint hosts also had to be careful in defending their goal and this they failed to do only six minutes into the second half when Szczesny hurtled impetuously off his line in response to a near-post cross from Vassilis Torossidis and appeared to succeed only in distracting Marcin Wasilewski, the defender stumbling over the ball and falling so that, with Szczesny also prone, Salpingidis had little difficulty in prodding it into the net. Had there been a call that Wasilewski did not hear? Amid the din, it was possible. And the drama had only begun.
Booked: Greece Papastathopoulos (twice), Holebas, Karagounis.
Sent off: Poland Szczesny (69). Greece Papastathopoulos (44)
Man of the match Tyton
Match rating 8/10
Poss: Pol 59% Gre 41%
Attempts on target: Pol 5 Gre 1
Referee C B Carballo (Sp)
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