Poland, Greece open with a draw

Greece's Dimitris Salpingidis (centre) celebrates with his teammates after scoring against Poland...

Greece's Dimitris Salpingidis (centre) celebrates with his teammates after scoring against Poland during their Euro 2012 match in Warsaw on Friday, June 8, 2012. (Pascal Lauener/Reuters)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:14 PM ET

WARSAW - The tournament got what it wanted, a thrilling opener that will be remembered and discussed.

Poland, the host nation, well, it got a kick in the stomach and its long-planned party was spoiled.

As for Greece, it built on its reputation as a gritty team that never gives up and often finds ways to work a little magic when it appears the magician is out of tricks.

Poland and Greece played to a 1-1 draw Friday in the Euro 2012 opener.

It was a game that had most of the 56,000 plus at the National Stadium on the edge of their seats. But it really wasn't about the quality of soccer, though. It was about the drama, the theatre, the riveting belief that something different was just around the corner.

In this case, there usually was.

The game featured two red cards, a missed penalty, a missed penalty call and a succession of controversial incidents that emphasized why soccer can be a sport that can be so loved on one hand, yet so hated on the other.

The Euro opener was something Poland had been anticipating since it was granted half of the tournament six years ago. It didn't matter whether it was Greece, England or Spain that was going to play. It was all about the game itself.

Polish fans swarmed around the stadium and the downtown hours before the game. They hung out of train windows chanting and singing. They filled the stadium with a panorama of white and red. In this ocean of Polish supporters were a few very small squares of Greece's blue.

The stadium was in delirium as the teams stepped on to the pitch.

Poland seemed to feast on the emotion, sucking in great clouds of it as it dominated the first half. It repeatedly sliced open what was supposed to be an impenetrable Greek defence. The Poles seemed rocket-propelled as they won virtually every contested ball.

The breakthrough came in the 17 minute when a magnificent Jakub Blaszczykowski lofted a cross that found the head of Robert Lewandowski.

His nod into the net caused the Polish home crowd to erupt.

They should have had several others.

It appeared even Spanish referee Carlos Carballo was affected by the atmosphere. He missed a clear penalty against Poland. He handed Greece's Sokratis Papastathopoulos two non-existent yellow cards sending him to the dressing room late in the first half.

The Poles should have done much more with the chances they created. Instead they opened the door to the Greeks an inch and the tough little nation kicked it down.

A brutal goaltending play by Poland's Wojciech Szczsesny allowed substitute Dimitris Salpingidis an empty net to tie it early in the second half.

Poland then lost Szczsesny in the second half to a red card when he brought down Salpingidis for a penalty.

His substitute, Prezemyslaw Tyton, came in and stopped Greece's Giorgos Karagounis on the ensuing penalty.

One would have expected Karagounis' failure would give Poland the boost it needed while deflating the Greeks.

Instead it was the Greeks who came close several times to the winner. In the end they were fully worthy of at least a point.

The Poles didn't have anything left as the game drew to a close. They might have withered under the weight of carrying a nation on their shoulders. They may have pushed themselves into the red zone in the first half as adrenalin pumped through their bodies. Or it may have been that Greece simply took the game away from them by being the better team.

They quieted the chant of "Polska, Polska" that engulfed the stadium for much of the game.

Now Poland recharges and waits to see what Russia holds for a country that has seen some of the tournament's joy stolen.


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