WARSAW, Poland, June 8 – Substitute goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton was the unlikely hero as his penalty save from Greek captain Giorgos Karagounis saw Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland draw 1-1 with Euro 2004 champions Greece in an incident-packed opening match here on Friday.
Tyton’s moment of glory came with his first piece of action after Poland’s first choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny had been sent off by Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo in the 69th minute.
The Spaniard had been a busy man as he sent-off Sokratis Papastathopoulos shortly before half-time with the hosts leading 1-0 thanks to a goal by Robert Lewandowski.
Polish coach Franciszek Smuda took consolation out of the point they had got.
“A point is something. Obviously we were guilty of committing several errors, especially their goal,” he said.
“But the first game of a tournament often finishes in a draw.
“At least we haven’t lost. There are still two matches to go. We must win both.
“The players admittedly were under a lot of pressure but there was a lot of fighting spirit.”
His opposite number Fernando Santos wasn’t happy with the draw as he said he had demanded victory but nevertheless the Portuguese – who replaced Otto Rehhagel after the 2010 World Cup – didn’t blame the players more the referee.
“I don’t think it was justified that Sokratis was sent off with two yellow cards, but still we succeeded in keeping the pressure on the game,” he said.
“I totally accept the decision of the referee but that was a very difficult situation for us.”
Poland looked to have launched their campaign with a flourish, their self-belief stoked when Borussia Dortmund star Lewandowski sent home fans wild with his 17th-minute header.
But with Greece aware their shock win over Euro 2004 hosts Portugal launched them on their road to the title, they battled hard in the second half, with substitute Dimitris Salpingidis levelling the score in the 51st minute.
Poland manager Franciszek Smuda had warned that the Greek defence would be a tough nut to crack, and opted to go for the jugular from the outset.
Three minutes in, Rafal Murawski forced Greek keeper Kostas Chalkias to punch his strike clear, followed swiftly by Maciej Rybus, who hit the post.
Greece attempted to respond in the 11th minute after winning a free kick, with Euro 2004 veteran Karagounis finding Fanis Gekas, who headed wide.
Lewandowski worked hard with Borussia Dortmund team-mates Kuba Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek – a trio dubbed the squad’s backbone by Poland manager Franciszek Smuda – to hound the Greek defence.
Operating up front, defender Piszczek fed midfielder Blaszczykowski, only for the Poland captain to head over the bar.
Two minutes later, diving to head the ball, Lewandowski failed to latch on to a cross from Piszczek.
But the three men’s efforts paid dividends as they took advantage of poor marking with Piszczek finding Blaszczykowski, and Lewandowski heading home the latter’s cross.
Papastathopoulos, already hit with a yellow card for fouling Lewandowski, saw red four minutes from half-time for bringing down Murawski.
Greece sought to take control in the second half.
In the 51st minute, Gekas challenged Szczesny, the ball spilled loose and Salpingidis seized his chance to beat the Arsenal keeper.
Twenty minutes later, Szczesny’s nightmare day reached its nadir as he was sent off for bringing down the Greek scorer in the box.
But a hastily gloved-up Tyton saved the day as Karagounis – who scored against Portugal in the 2004 opener – failed to beat him.