It was a truly enthralling first day of the eagerly anticipated Euro 2012 tournament. This first matchday looks to be a microcosm of what one expects the entire tournament to exhibit — goals, controversy, and sheer entertainment.
Both matches combined produced seven goals. Only once before did an opening matchday of the Euros produce more goals — twelve in the 1960 tournament.*
Flix & Trix will endeavor to provide unique yet engaging coverage of what is already looking to be an exciting, action-packed Euro 2012. Hope you enjoy it.
Matchday 1 Score (Group A):
Poland 1-1 Greece
— Good Creativity — Poland made eleven key passes versus Greece, including set-pieces. Most of their attacks (40%) came down the right side of midfield. This was no coincidence as the players positioned there — Lukasz Piszczek and Jakub “Kuba” Blaszczykowski — are quite familiar with each other given they play for the same club, Borussia Dortmund, in the Bundesliga.
They linked up very well and even had Ludovic Obraniak join in at times. In fact, it was Obraniak that sparked another vital club connection into life; he supplied the pass that enabled “Kuba” to steam past his man and float a delightful cross towards grateful Dortmund team-mate, Robert Lewandowski, who subsequently forced a downward header into the back of the net for the game’s and the tournament’s opening goal. Evidently, player familiarity will be a crucial factor in this tournament. The Piszczek-“Kuba” combination already looks vital for Poland.
— Good Passing — Armed with 54% possession of the ball, Poland completed 84% of their passes on the day. Their passes were mostly short, which explains much. The central defensive pairing of Marcin Wasilewski and Damien Perquis and the defensive midfield pairing of Rafal Murawski and Eugen Polanski were key to Poland’s decent ball retention.
— Weak Mentality — The Polish players were clearly up for the occasion from the opening minute of play. They pressed the ball when not in possession and attacked relentlessly.
After Lewandowski’s opener and with Greece a man down, albeit unjustly so, the expectation was that Poland would use the second half to put the Greeks to the sword. However, they came out with a very complacent attitude and in the end were fortunate to get away with a point.
They didn’t press Greece as they did in the first half, neither did they offer as much going forward. They played as though they were satisfied with the one goal lead. Greece showed them how dangerous it is to think like that. With Russia up next, Franciszek Smuda would be wise to advise his players to keep their foot on the gas for the duration of the game.
— Poor Defense — Greece offered nothing in the first half, except a few efforts that blazed well off target, and were basically outplayed by the host nation. As a result, Poland were largely untroubled at the back. At the commencement of the second half, however, this changed dramatically.
Greece was galvanized by Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ sending off and was lifted by the introduction of Dimitrios Salpingidis. The renewed vigor of Greece and the complacency of Poland saw the momentum swing in the favor of the former nation. It was then that Poland’s vulnerability at the back was found out.
A horrible mix-up between Wasilewski and Wojciech Szczesny allowed Salpingidis to slot home the game’s equaliser. Then, a lofted ball over the top of the stranded Polish center backs from substitute Konstantinos Fortounis left Salpingidis alone and through on goal, only for Szczesny to trip him up and concede a penalty, earning himself an early bath and a ‘break’ for the next game in the process. Had substitute ‘keeper Przemyslaw Tyton not saved the penalty, Poland would’ve thrown away all three points.
Poland also won just 43% of the game’s aerial duels. At set-pieces, this could pose a huge problem in future matches. Franciszek Smuda should keep an eye on this as well.
Poland aren’t in the toughest of groups, but as the Greeks proved, no game is a foregone conclusion. Their defensive frailties have been laid bare, but with a decent attacking lineup, Franciszek Smuda’s men are still in with a chance of progression to the next phase. They just need to keep the action in the attacking third of the pitch. If they don’t progress, however, they should rightly look back at this game and blame themselves.
— Strong Mentality — Sokratis Papastathopoulos suffered the indignity of being the first player to be sent off in Euro 2012, in the first match of the competition to boot. Amazingly, neither of the the yellow cards he received in the build up to his red card were bookable offences.
Playing versus the host nation while being subjected to a chorus of boos and whistles, going a goal down, and then going a man down in rather unjust circumstances would’ve knocked the stuffing out of pretty much any team, but credit to Fernando Santos and his players.
They came out fighting in the second half, led by an inspired Dimitrios Salpingidis who was hungry and desperate to prove to his manager why he should’ve started over young Sotiris Ninis, who played poorly in the first half and was subsequently subbed during the break.
This Greek side was galvanized and highly motivated by the injustice suffered and, with Poland unwilling to kill them off, they gave them a taste of their own medicine. Even before Szczesny received his marching orders, Greece played with ten men as though they had eleven and earned a deserved point in the end as a result. They could’ve even won the game. Strong character on display, indeed.
— Lack of Creativity — Greece made just 4 key passes all game. No doubt the sending off didn’t do them any favors and the onus was then put on captain Giorgios Karagounis to provide some sort of spark, but even he couldn’t provide one. He worked hard, but his penalty miss and poor deliveries from set-pieces summed up what was an ineffective overall performance from him. Giannis Maniatis was of no help creatively alongside Karagounis and had a poor game, while Georgios Samaras looked very much out of place and out of confidence on the left side of midfield.
Fernando Santos should think about giving young Ioannis Fetfatzidis a go on the left to put Samaras out of his misery as well as inject pace, innovation and flair to a bland midfield. However, given Ninis’ poor performance, he may opt to stick with experience, especially against arguably the strongest country in the group — Russia.
Added creativity would see Theofanis Gekas get more touches of the ball, though. He only had twelve before being subbed. To get some perspective on this, Fortounis (13) and Salpingidis (14) both had more touches than Gekas. In fact, he had the lowest amount of touches out of all the players on the pitch — Greek and Polish.
The only bright spot for Greece going forward was Salpingidis. Though, he provided more of an attacking thrust than a creative spark. His off the ball movement was immense. He was in the right place to slot home the point-snatching equaliser and he was the one who stole in behind the Polish defense and forced Szczesny into tackling him. He was also the one who nearly won all the marbles after slotting home what everyone thought was the winner. The offside flag however, raised against Fortounis in the build up to the goal, ultimately broke Greek hearts.
— Poor Passing — The Greeks completed just 78% of their passes. This contributed to Poland’s dominance of possession. They have to use the ball better if they are to have a realistic chance of progressing to the next round.
This may not be the most talented of teams at the Euros, but strong character could prove a valuable asset for this country. They may lack creativity, but at least the impressive cameo performance of Salpingidis has instilled some confidence within the side. No doubt he has assured himself of a starting berth versus Russia. That match won’t be easy but if Greece and, in particular, Salpingidis play anything like they did in the second half versus Poland, they may well steal all three points and thus make things very interesting in Group A.
*- Stats via @OptaJoe and whoscored