Poland, Greece play to thrilling draw in Euro 2012 opener
Warsaw, Poland (Sports Network) - If the opening match of the European Championships is any predictor of how the tournament will play out, then it is sure to be an entertaining month.
Greece and Poland kicked off Euro 2012 in stunning fashion, playing to a 1-1 draw at the National Stadium in a match that was not light on drama or controversy.
Robert Lewandowski helped the Poles jump out to an early lead in a dominant first-half performance for the host nation, but the Greeks were able to get on level terms just after the break as Dimitris Salpingidis tied it up.
The end result sees the two sides split the points to get off to a decent start in a wide open Group A, but the goals did not tell the whole story of an eventful day in Warsaw.
"I can tell you we were very well prepared but we were under great pressure, great stress, and ... it was a big burden for this very young team who have not played in a big tournament before," Poland coach Franciszek Smuda said.
Poland had the better of the early running and made the most of their opportunities by taking the lead in the 17th minute.
A pair of Borussia Dortmund teammates produced a fine goal as Jakub Blaszczykowski delivered a soaring cross to the back post where an unmarked Lewandowski slammed his header beneath Kostas Chalkias and into the back of the net.
Poland continued to dictate play, but it was referee Carlos Velasco Carballo who stole the show by issuing two puzzling yellow cards to Sokratis Papastathopoulos nine minutes apart.
Greece was able to regroup at halftime and make a game of it, leveling the score six minutes after the restart.
Salpingidis made an immediate impact after coming on as a substitute, capitalizing on a failed clearance by slotting home a loose ball from close range.
Things continued to go in Greece's favor when Salpingidis earned a penalty kick in the 69th minute. The PAOK striker went down under a challenge from Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who was promptly sent off for denying a clear scoring chance, giving the Greeks a golden opportunity to take the lead.
Poland's second-choice goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton entered the match and instantaneously became a hero by stopping the ensuing penalty, taken by Giorgos Karagounis.
The remainder of the contest played out like a chess match as both sides created the occasional scoring chance while failing to convert.
"In the end both teams were tired, but both tried to win, both tried to create chances, and we had the best of the second half," Greece coach Fernando Santos said.
Poland faces a stern test as it looks to rebound against Group A favorites Russia on Tuesday while Greece will take on the Czech Republic the same day.