The Greeks have been riled, ridiculed and belittled even when they won the Euro. In 2012 edition, they have been a group who had a surprisingly smooth progress to the tournament proper but in both their matches, very weak starts have spoiled any chance of a positive result. They conceded in the 17th minute in the first match and then had a man down by the middle of the first half. In the second match, they were down by two goals within the opening ten minutes. Both times they fought back, showing indomitable spirit and should have won the first match, but for a botched penalty against a substitute goalkeeper. Today they face their greatest challenge – to start on a positive note. That would mean keeping the marauding Russians at bay. The left side has been the most vulnerable and Poland could have scored multiple goals in the opening half hour (as the Czechs did) from that side. The manager would do to plug that gap, if he is to keep Arshavin and company at bay. The return of ex-Milanista Sokratis Papasthopoulos in the defence, after his harsh red card in the opening match would probably be much welcomed. In the attack, Dimitrios Salpigidis has been the miracle man. But most of what comes to Georgios Samaras, has seemed futile. That is another position that the manager can change in the final XI.
The task of the Greeks is maginified because the Russians are themselves not assured of a berth in the next round. The Russians have played attractive football and Alan Dzagoev is probably having a breakout tournament, placing himself prominently in the transfer window. Andrei Arshavin, back in Russia after a troubled year in Arsenal, has again looked like the menace of 2008 Euros – a display that had sparked his transfer to Arsenal. There is some problem in the attack though and that is with Aleksandr Kerzhakov. A vital man for Dick Advocaat from his Zenit days, Kerzhakov has a tournament leading 10 shots off target. Russia only needs a draw to advance but a win will assure them of the top position and will probably allow them to avoid Germany in the quarter-finals (if one may hazard a prediction about Group B).
The Russians have created the second highest number of chances (shots taken) and has looked quite an efficient team in both their matches. Losing to the Greeks and crashing out of the Euros will be a disaster as big as their loss to Slovenia on away-goals rule in the play-off for 2010 world cup.
The Greeks have only ever qualified for the knock-out rounds of one major tournament and they won that one. Their spirit has been commendable in this tournament but if they can bank on spirit alone to qualify for their second ever qualifying round is the question.
One would expect Russia to start strong and exploit the weak left side of the Greeks and then sit back and hit on the counter. They have the firepower to overwhelm the Greeks but before the business end of the tournament starts, the manager would want to get all his misifiring squad into shape.
Russia(4-2-3-1): Viatcheslav Malafeev;Alexander Anyukov, Alexei Berezutski, Sergei Ignashevich, Yuri Zhirkov; Roman Shirokov, Igor Denisov; Konstantin Zyrianov, Alan Dzagoev, Alexandr Kerzhakov; Andrey Arshavin
Manager: Dick Advocaat
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)
“If we get into the match early, or better yet, straight from the referee’s whistle – if we go into it focused and don’t make those mistakes – then I think our team has a chance of achieving what we want.”
Fernando Santos wants his Greece team to start strong.
“He can score out of nothing, even though he may not play that well.”
Dick Advocaat defends his misfiring striker Aleksandr Kerzakhov
Hosts see-saw with Greeks in Opener
Poland 1 – 1 Greece
R Lewandowski (1-0); D. Salpigidis(1-1)
When the group stages were drawn and the draw made, a Poland vs. Greece opener didn’t sound as a terribly exciting way to open the quadrennial extravaganza. But in the end with 2 goals, 2 red cards, 2 super substitutions and a penalty save from an unheralded goalkeeper, this was a real humdinger of a match and almost too dramatic to be the opener for a tournament. Poland looked good for an easy win with chance after chance and went in at the half time 1 goal and 1 man to the good. But 10 men Greece equalised immediately in the second half and then get a penalty for which the Polish goalkeeper Szczęsny was sent off. Substitute goalkeeper Tyton saved the penalty and the match ultimately ended 1-1.
Poland started in 4-2-3-1 and their wingers were continuously carving open the Greek defense in the opening minutes. Within the first 5 minutes, Rafał Murawski had a tip over save from Greek goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias. In their first tournament since 2008 Euros, Poland seemed to be in a zone and amid wave upon wave of Polish attacks it seemed a formality that a goal would come. The Borussia Dortmund trio of right back Lukasz Piszczek, captain Jakub Błaszczykowski and striker Robert Lewandowski tore open the Greek flanks. Lewandowski missed a Piszczek cutback on the 13th minute by a whisker but a few minutes, he put Poland ahead with a thumping header. The Greek defending was shoddy and soon they had more problems as central defender Avraam Papadopoulos went off with a knee injury and was replaced by his namesake Kyriakos.
The Poles continued to create opportunities and probably the best of the lot fell to defender Damien Perquis who got the ball from a free kick and the goal at his mercy. His swipe at the ball went wide of the post to relieve the Greeks for the time being. And then the referee took over as a chief tormentor. Ex-Milan and Genoa flop, Sokratis Papasthopoulos was sent off for 2 yellow cards where both were undeserved. In the first case, he got pulled up for a header, where he got the ball and in the second case, the polish player slipped while running for a ball. Referee Carlos Velasco Carballo of Spain, had given 16 marching orders in 19 matches in La Liga this season and his ‘strike rate’ continued in the Euro opener. Sokratis thus became the first player since Patrik Andersson of Sweden in 2000 against Belgium, to be sent off in the opening match of the Euros. The first half ended with further controversy as Perquis seemed to have fallen with the ball under his arm in his penalty box but the referee deemed it unintentional.
The Greeks had seemed a spent force and manager Fernando Santos, sought to look at experience to change it around. 30 year old Dimitris Salpigidis came on for the 22 year old Sotiris Ninis who had looked forlorn on the right wing in the first half. Within 5 minutes of his entry, Salpigidis had turned the match on its head with the equaliser though Arsenal keeper Szczęsny was to blame for it. Surprisingly 10 men Greece proved to be far more incisive, which was also due to the fact that Poland were shell shocked by the equaliser and didn’t really have the spirit to counter the Greek resolve. But for the comical profligacy of Giorgios Samaras, who looked like a clueless amateur, the visitors would have gone ahead. And then Szczęsny tripped Salpigidis in the box, conceding a penalty and getting sent off. Reserve keeper Przemysław Tytoń came up with the penalty save from Karagounis and ultimately that proved to be the turning point. Lewandowski did threaten in the final minutes but Chalkias was upto it. The irrepressible Salpigidis did manage to get the ball past the Polish goalline, only this time to be thwarted by a very tight offside call on Karagounis. In the end, both teams could lick their wounds with a draw though the Poles would wander how they could miss full points from the half time position.
A bruising draw with 1 sending off each, especially your goalkeeper and #1 defender (with #2 defender injured and out of the tournament) doesn’t bode well for the rest of the tournament. However both Poland and Greece can take solace from the fact that they each could have won this tie at various points. The demolition of the Czech Republic by the Russians is another bright spot. Both Poland and Greece had their moments in this match and neither would rule out wins against Czech Republic, demolished by Russia. With a bit of better luck, and sensible refereeing, both Poland and Greece can progress.
Poland: Wojciech Szczesny, Damien Perquis, Lukasz Piszczek, Sebastian Boenisch, Marcin Wasilewski, Ludovic Obraniak, Maciej Rybus (Przemyslaw Tyton, 70), Rafal Murawski, Eugen Polanski, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski;
Referee Carlos Velasco Carballo
Venue National Stadium
“A draw is not the end of it; this tournament is still open. We have two matches to go and should not dwell on this but just focus on the next one and winning it.”
Poland manager Franciszek Smuda
“I have to congratulate my players on a great effort, principally in the second half. If you leave aside the first 20 minutes, when we did all the things we were not supposed to do, I am satisfied, as after that all the players did a great job.”