Greece spoiled Poland’s European Championship opening party. The soccer competition co-hosts have only themselves to blame.
The Poles, who opened the scoring through Robert Lewandowski in the 17th minute, played with an extra man for 26 minutes and missed a series of first-half chances to put the match out of the visitors’ reach before a goalkeeping error allowed substitute Dimitris Salpingdis to claim a 1-1 tie. Greece could have won if captain Giorgios Karagounis had scored on a 70th-minute penalty.
“It’s a disappointment in the sense that we thought we’d win it after the first half,” captain Jakub Blaszczykowski told reporters after the game at the National Stadium in Warsaw. “But if you look at the second half, it could easily have gone the other way.”
A win would have given Poland three points ahead of a June 12 meeting with group favorite Russia. The 2008 semifinalist tops Group A after beating the Czech Republic 4-1 in Wroclaw.
The 16-team event is being played in eastern Europe for the first time, with Ukraine also hosting. Both co-hosts have faced concerns ranging from their ability to build the infrastructure necessary to host sport’s third-largest competition to the possibility of racist chanting in stadiums.
All those worries were put aside as thousands of fans draped in Polish red and white streamed toward the 56,070-capacity stadium as many as four hours before the kickoff for Poland’s first competitive match in two years.
The team’s start suggested there wasn’t any rustiness. Blaszczykowski, Lukasz Piszczek and Lewandowski, a trio of players who’d just celebrated winning the German championship with Borussia Dortmund, regularly combined to get behind the opposition defense, particularly its right flank.
Three minutes after he failed to connect with a diving header off Piszczek’s cross, Lewandowski met another from Blaszczykowski in the 17th minute to induce loud cheers.
“One more,” was the chant that reverberated loudest around the roofed stadium. And the chances came and went while Greece failed to register a single shot on target in the first 45 minutes, which it finished playing a man down after Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off for a second yellow card in the 44th minute.
“Our plan was to apply pressure and we didn’t pay attention in the first 25 minutes,” Greece’s coach Fernando Santos told reporters at a news briefing. “After that, we responded and started controlling the ball.”
Greece silenced the crowd when Salpingidis leveled six minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute. The 30-year-old striker tapped in a loose ball when goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny missed Vassilis Torossidis’s cross. Arsenal’s Szczesny was then sent off for bringing down the Greek goalscorer with 20 minutes to go.
Substitute goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton entered the game and immediately saved Karagounis’s penalty. Salpingidis thought he’d won the match with a late strike, only to be denied when offside was called.
“We played only for 45 minutes, we slept through the second half,” Poland’s central defender Marcin Wasilewski told reporters after the game.