Poland 'paralysed by the big moment'


GROUP A POLAND 1 GREECE 1:DESPITE THE fanfares, the dancing girls and the classical pianist, this was not a good night for host country Poland, held to an uninspiring 1-1 draw in a tense, at times exciting but technically poor opening Euro 2012 game at the National Stadium in Warsaw last night.

The look on the disappointed face of Polish coach, Franciszek Smuda, said it all afterwards. This was clearly not the tournament start he had envisaged.

“We were well prepared for this game but my team were under a lot of pressure,” he said. “My players are not like the Greek squad, many of whom have been to a finals tournament before . . . Still, I am satisfied with the team because, especially in the first half, we were very motivated and determined.

“If we made a mistake, it was that we played too defensively, too square in the second half and allowed Greece back into the game. I would say that some of my players were paralysed by the big moment but I am sure we can improve from this.”

Smuda’s opposite number, Fernando Santos, tended to read the game in the same way, saying: “Apart from the first 20 minutes when they made every possible mistake, my players did very well to come back from being a goal and a man down. In the end, we had that chance to win the game with the Karagounis penalty but the keeper made a great save. That’s football for you.”

Indeed that was football for you on a night when neither the host nation nor the tournament organisers got their ideal result.

Uefa will at least be relieved that Greece did not stage a rerun of 2004 when they defeated host nation Portugal on their way to a surprise tournament victory. As it is, Poland live to fight another day and what a day that will be when they meet little loved former Soviet overlords, Russia, here in Warsaw next Tuesday.

Following a brief but exciting opening ceremony, marked by a partial rendering of a Chopin Étude by Hungarian classical pianist, Adam Gyorgy, this game appeared to start in the best possible way for the host nation.

Buoyed by a fervently patriotic home crowd and sent into battle on the wings of a lusty rendition of the Polish national anthem, Poland were all over Greece in the opening 20 minutes.

When they opened the scoring with a well taken 17th minute goal from Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, following a neat cross from the right by captain Jakub Blaszczykowski, it seemed that the Polish “red sea” had opened up and was about to swallow Greece whole.

That perception was even stronger when Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off for a second yellow card by Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo just before half-time.

However, the Poles were to pay heavily for their failure to make the most of their almost total domination in the first half-hour.

Down to 10 men and with little left to lose, the Greeks finally came out to play and were probably good value for their 51st minute equaliser from substitute Dimitris Salpigidis, even if it was largely due to a defensive mix-up between Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Sczcesny and defender Damien Perquis.

Rattled by that equaliser, the Poles lost control of the game. Things might have gone from bad to worse for them when Sczcesny, conceded a 69th minute penalty by bringing down Fanis Gekas. With Sczcesny being sent off for the offence, reserve goalkeeper Przem Tyton proved the hero of the night, making a brilliant save from Greek captain, Giorgos Karagounis.

Poland survived another scare just five minutes later when substitute Kostas Fortounis was ruled offside just as he set up Salpingidis for his second goal of the night.

By that stage, with both sides down to 10 men, a 1-1 draw was always looking the probable result at the end of a game whose quality seriously failed to match its build-up.