If the opening game at this year’s European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine is anything to go by, there will be lots of controversial moments, times of sheer genius and a feast of football, marred only by some very poor refereeing decisions…welcome to the everyday world of football.

From the kick off, the very lively and predominantly Polish partisan support were showing why the home support in big tournaments can be just as good as a winning goal in the 90th minute. They cheered, jeered and for the first half at least willed a very good Polish side to a hopeful victory. In the end though the game will be remembered for the two major substitutes made by the two sides which turned the game and gave it that extra spice that’s needed to open up a major tournament. Throughout the whole of the first half the Greeks looked lacklustre; seemingly no ambition to win the trophy that they won surprisingly in 2004 and no heart to get a nation that is suffering more than any other in Europe to the downward spiral of the much maligned Euro behind them and give the fans back home something to cheer about.

With very little to tell between the two sides in the opening 15 minutes, the game had the feel of one of those games that could kick start any championship, drab and dull, nothing much to kick start off three weeks of football. Fans will remember the almost dreadful start to Euro 96 when The Swiss held an England side, coached by Terry Venables, at Wembley to all 1-1 draw. It really could have gone like that, nothing much to write about at all. However if that was the case the Polish side didn’t read the script as they started to pile on more pressure on a Greek side that was looking fragile in the last third of the field. For a side that had qualified with so few goals scored against them in the previous rounds, this was ragged, untidy and generally badly played football.

With 16 minutes gone, an excellent pass from the wing beat the out of sorts Greek defence and was headed into the net, past a despairing Chalkias, by the wonder boy of Polish football Lewandowski. Poland from there really should have gone on to the win the game, chances came and went and Sokratis Papastathopoulous was booked bizarrely for something that really seemed innocuous. Worse was to follow for the 2004 champions as in the last few minutes of the first half the same player was sent off following a second yellow card. In a game that had five officials on the field of play, the Greek side and Papastathopoulous in particular will feel aggrieved that the foul which earned the dismissal was really nothing to earn a caution, let alone reducing the already shaky Greeks side down to ten men.

Anyone expecting the Greek side to roll over and die quietly during the second half didn’t count upon the inspired substitution by the Greek coach Fernando Santos who replaced the ineffective Ninis with Salpingdis. From the start of the second half, Salpingdis galvanised a resistance that bought back memories of the stout defence by the Spartans at Thermopylae. Suddenly it was the home side on the back foot for virtually the rest of the game. Within six minutes of the re-start, Salpingdis took advantage of a mistake by the Poland and Arsenal keeper Szczesny and thumped the ball into the back of the net to make it 1-1. If there should have been a turning point in the game it was that one and when on 68 minutes Szczesny bought down Salpingdis in the penalty area, the game looked to be settled. The Spanish referee, Mr. Carballo, had no choice but to send of the Arsenal man for his recklessness and suddenly the gifts were being given to the Greeks.

With Rybus being sacrificed by the Polish coach to make way for the substitute goalkeeper, Przemyslaw Tyton, it seemed as though Greek Captain Karagounis would make sure of all three points for his side. One on one with a keeper who has been sat down in the stands for the vast majority of the game, it has to be said that as good as Karagounis’s penalty was, it really should have been delivered with more accuracy and power as the P.S.V. Eindhoven man made the save look easy and kept his side in the Championships.

Both teams will have to improve if they are to progress. The Greek team especially as they looked rag tag and dishevelled till the introduction of the excellent Salpingdis.

Final Score: Poland 1 Greece 1

Poland: Szezesny, Boenisch, Polanski, Rybus, Lewandowski, Obraniak, Lewandowski, Murawski, Perquis, Kowskiu, piszczek. Subs used: Tyton.

Greece: Chalkias, Maniatis, Samaras, Papadopoulos, Karagounis, Torossidis, Gekas, Ninis, Papastathopoulous, Holebas, Katsouranis. Subs used: Fortunas, Salpingidis

Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain)
Man of the Match: Poland, P. Tyton. Greece, Salpingidis.

Ian D. Hall