(WFI) What a night. First the dramatic Poland v Greece Euro 2012 opener exceeded expectations – a 1-1 draw featuring two sendings off and a saved penalty that either side could have won. After the tasty starter, Russia served up a terrific main course, taking the Czech Republic to the cleaners with a 4-1 win.
Warsaw’s National Stadium was fit to bursting with 56,000 fans – and about 54,000 were sporting the red and white of the co-host nation. Clearly, the touts who had been flogging category 1 tickets for €1,500 and category 2 for €1,000 had done their job.
Leaden skies and a downpour forced organisers to close the retractable roof a couple of hours before the opening ceremony, creating a hot and humid environment for players and fans.
As if the masses of scarf-waving Polish fans wasn’t intimidating enough, the “Polska” chanting din of the crowd heightened by the shut roof that greeted the home side gave Franciszek Smuda’s men the upper hand before a ball had been kicked. The hysterical wolf-whistling that greeted the Greek players’ every touch of the ball in the five minutes after kick-off may have got to them too.
It was the Polish team who took the initiative, keeping possession, passing well and threatening on the break, especially the right flank.
Robert Lewandowski, who else, headed in a right-wing cross for the opening goal of Euro 2012 on 17 minutes. The 23-year-old impressed, showing why he was a goal machine for Borussia Dortmund last season bagging 30 goals and why Manchester United are set to sign him. He was voted the man of the match here in Warsaw, although largely on the strength of his first-half display.
Greece passed poorly and conceded bags of possession. They looked doomed when Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off for two yellow cards before half-time. The Greeks then lost their heads in the minutes leading up the interval with a series of reckless tackles.
Who knows if Fernando Santos gave his team the hairdryer treatment at the break. But whatever he said did the trick. Greece emerged from the tunnel a different team and their newfound confidence paid dividends when Dimitris Salpingidis scored a second-half equaliser from close range on 51 minutes after a mix-up between keeper Wojciech Szczesny and defender Marcin Wasilewski.
Greece should have stolen the points. On 70 minutes, Szczesny was adjudged to have brought down. The ref sent him off. But to the astonishment of small band of Greek fans gathered behind the goal, Giorgos Karagounis’s
poorly-hit spot-kick was well saved by substitute keeper Przemyslaw Tyton.
What could have been for the 2004 European Champions. And, oh what could have been for the Polish, who lost their shape and ran out of ideas and invention in the second half, squandering possession to the grateful Greeks who couldn’t believe they’d got back into the match.
And so the stats remain the same: Poland have still yet to win a game at the European Championships. At euro 2008, their only previous appearnace, they lost two game and drew one before heading home from Austria/Switzerland; tonight’s stalemate means Greece have won just one of their 10 group matches at any Euro finals.
Man Utd on His Mind?
Lewandowski was asked in the post-match press conference if all the talk about his potential move to
Manchester United had influenced his mental state before the game.
The Dortmund hitman scored his 30 goals in 46 appearances last term, prompting interest from Alex Ferguson’s United.
“No, it does not mean anything to me at all. There have been such talks for some time now but I decided not to focus on that during the Euros,” he insisted in comments to reporters.
“No matter if it is Manchester or another team, the European Championships are most important to me now.
“The preparation time was also the most important [thing] and I was not interested in that transfer talk. I was not into that,” he added, while some reporters could be forgiven for wondering why he was so absent-minded in a second half in which he did little.
“I guess it is a normal thing that the media and the press speculate. But as I said, I am focused on the national team and on what we have to achieve here.”
Russia Thump Hapless Czechs
In the 8.45pm kick-off in Wroclaw, Alan Dzagoev scored a brace as Russia overwhelmed the Czech Republic.
Dick Advocaat’s men were on top throughout and put in a display to send a message to their rivals in the 16-nation tournament that they mean business.
Roman Shirokov and Roman Pavlyuchenko netted the other goals. Václav Pilař scored for the Czechs but their overall display, particularly their capitulation in the second half, suggests they will struggle to advance beyond the group stages.
Who is Favourite for Euro 2012?
A Euro 2012 poll of INSIDER’s global readers reveals who they think will win the month-long tournament. The final is at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev on July 1.
The Dutch (30%) are favourite to win followed by Germany (23%) and Spain (20%). There is little hope that England will lift the trophy (11%).
A total of 16% of voters believe one of the other 12 teams will triumph.
By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson in Warsaw
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