WARSAW, Poland – What started out as a Polish celebration ended in disappointment for the Euro 2012 co-hosts. Despite an early goal from Robert Lewandowski, Poland was held to a 1-1 draw by ultimate party crasher Greece in an enthralling encounter that saw both teams finish with 10 men.
It was a result that frustrated the home crowd of 56,070, whose vociferous support galvanized Poland early. But it could have been much worse. After Greece defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off for a second bookable offense (a harsh punishment by most accounts), Poland seemed to be in control thanks to Lewandowski’s 17th-minute opener. But Greece equalized through halftime substitute Dimitris Salpingidis, then nearly went ahead in the 70th minute when Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny conceded a penalty and was then sent off for tripping Salpingidis.
Yet substitute goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton delivered a superb diving save from Giorgos Karagounis’ penalty, allowing Poland to stay level and allowing it to gain a draw that elicited equal measures of relief and disappointment.
That said, there was no denying Poland’s aggressive mindset early, as the co-hosts created a slew of chances in the game’s opening minutes. Rafal Murawski had a shot touched over the bar in the fifth minute by Greece goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias. Murawski and midfield running mate Eugen Polanski were winning everything in midfield, putting Greece under constant pressure.
Yet in the 12th minute, the Greeks showed a glimpse of why they are so dangerous, as Fanis Gekas’s glancing header from a Giorgos Karagounis free kick went just wide of Szczesny’s goal.
Poland was soon back on top, however. Jakub Blaszczykowski blazed a shot over the bar in the 13th minute after good work from Ludovic Obraniak. Then a great exchange of passes between Lukasz Piszczek and Blaszczykowski saw the former’s cross just miss Lewandowski in front of goal.
It proved a brief reprieve. Obraniak stole the ball in midfield, fed Blaszczykowski down the wing, and his inch-perfect cross was nodded home by Lewandowski with Chalkias caught in no-man’s-land.
Oddly, the goal seemed to take a bit of steam out of Poland’s initiative, as the Greeks began to settle into the match. That didn’t stop Poland defender Damien Perquis from squandering a glorious chance in the 37th minute when a poorly cleared set piece fell right to him in the box, but he contrived to hit his shot wide.
That set the stage for the game’s most contentious sequence. Earlier, Kyriakos Papadopoulos had been booked for a wayward elbow to the head of Lewandowski, but he was then given his marching orders when Murawski, who already appeared to be losing his balance, went down under his light challenge. It was enough for referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, who showed the defender a second yellow.
Game’s turning point
Greece head coach Fernando Santos brought on Salpingidis at halftime, and it turned the game around, with the midfielder scoring after six minutes. Vassilis Torossidis’s deflected cross fell invitingly for Salpingidis, and with Szczesny committed to the initial pass, Salpingidis slotted the ball into an open net in the 51st minute.
Suddenly, what looked to be formality for Poland was filled with tension for the hosts. Giorgos Samaras nearly put Greece ahead in the 63rd minute when a simple ball over the top found him in alone on Szczesny, only to shoot wide.
The warning went on unheeded, and it had dire consequences six minutes later, and Salpingidis was again in the middle of the action. Jose Holebas’ pass sprung him on a clear breakaway, only for Szczesny to haul Salpingidis down with a clear trip, resulting in a penalty and a red card.
Yet with game in its grasp, Greece let it slip away, as Tyton saved Karagounis’ spot kick.
Despite the setback, Greece seemed to be running downhill and appeared to go ahead in the 74th minute when Salpingidis tapped home substitute Kostas Fortounis’ cross only for the latter to be flagged for offside. Samaras then had another clear chance, but he shot over after recovering Sebastian Boenisch's wayward clearance.
Poland did what it could to push forward and almost scored via an own goal in the 90th minute, when Kostas Katsouranis’ clearance went just over the bar.
The proved to be the home side’s last chance, and a game that could have gone either way finished even.