Saturday, 9 June 2012


  • National Stadium, Warsaw
  • Date: Friday, 8 June
    Kick-off: 17:00 BST
    Ref: Carlos Velasco Carballo

It's a cliché almost as drearily inevitable as its realisation, but the opening matches of major footballing tournaments are seldom celebratory exhibitions of the beautiful game. The opening match of Euro 2012, however, had been the subject of less anticipation than most. A host that few expect to get beyond the first stage, in Poland, and the former champions, Greece, whose reputation as an international side has been built largely on stoic defending, and well practised set-piece goals- a classic was never likely to be in the offing.

And so it proved, as this commentator's nightmare began in typically nervy and scrappy fashion. Even when the Poles strung together one of the game's few packages of elegant attacking play- ultimately leading to the goal on 17 minutes for standout striker Lewandowski- the game never really threatened to revert from type until one man decided to make his mark on the game and the tournament.

It wasn't the German based Polish striker- apparently coveted by Manchester United- who faded with the game as service from Blaszczykowski et al. dried up, it wasn't the much vaunted Sotiris Ninis- who was withdrawn at half time- but the Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, who decided to liven things up with the first contemptibly spurious red card of the tournament. Having already booked the polysyllabic Socratis Papastathopoulos for an imaginary elbow ten minutes earlier, the Spaniard decided to compound his folly by awarding a second yellow, and then a red, for the lighest of touches upon the already tumbling Rafal Murawski.

From that point, a game that had previously played to type promptly transformed into something approaching a full-moon at an asylum as the ball hurtled from one end of the pitch to the other, with the obviously enraged Greeks throwing off the tactical shackles to play as openly and aggressively as their prosaic means would allow. The Polish keeper, Arsenal'sWojciech Szczesny, was the next man to allow the atmosphere and occasion get to him. Dressed in a manner which would, at the very least, make him unlikely to be hit by traffic at night, Szczesny, who had hitherto been largely untroubled, flailed at a cross he never had a hope of claiming, allowing Dimitris Salpingidis to claim the Greek equaliser.

Things only got worse for Poland's young keeper as, he was sent off for taking down the goal-scorer when through on goal in the 67th minute. With the scene set for the visitors to claim an unlikely victory over their hosts, the Polish substitute goalkeeper, Tyton, made a good save from the resulting penalty by Greek captain Karagounis, and the game continued in the same frenzied fashion as before, aided by the teams being down to 10 a side.

Both teams had their chances, and the Greeks had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside,
 but, ultimately, neither team really deserved to win just as they didn't deserve to lose. Either or both could be returning home after the group stage and, if there is any justice, Carballo will be packing his bags before they play again. It wasn't football a la champagne, but if the rest of the tournament shares a fraction of this games lunacy, it will be hard to look away.

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