If you were asked to write the craziest possible scenario for the coming 90 minutes prior to the opening game, I am sure you wouldn't have come up with what we witnessed on Friday. Let's run through the list: Early goal … check. First-half dismissal … check. Second central defender out with injury and out of the tournament … check. Team with ten players equalising … check. Team with ten players getting penalty … check. Other team also down to ten … check. Substitute goalkeeper coming on without warming up to save a penalty … check.
It was a crazy, intense match, which put Greek resilience to test. And Fernando Santos's players passed with flying colours. It's the nature of this team. Otto Rehhagel, the former coach, used to say in his native German: "Je schwerer, desto besser." To rephrase, 'when the going gets tough, the tough get going'.
Given the way the match unfolded deep in the first half, with the Greeks trailing by one goal to the passionately backed co-hosts, having had Sokratis Papastathopoulos dismissed and seen Avraam Papadopoulos limp out, achieving anything more than a first-game defeat appeared a very tall order indeed. But that's when the Greek soul, as the domestic press call it today, kicked in. "Greece, you made our day" is the headline of GoalNews with a photo of Dimitris Salpingidis celebrating his equaliser. SportDay also believes that "we can go through".
The way the Greek players reacted when they seemed cornered by their Polish counterparts is a clear indication that they can handle adversity. Santos was also cool under pressure and his coaching changed the match around. Substitute Salpingidis scored after being on the pitch for just six minutes – and thereby became the only Greek player to have scored in the final stage of a EURO and FIFA World Cup – and also won his side the penalty.
Another to have emerged from the bench, Kostas Fortounis, wreaked havoc on the right side of the Polish defence with his neat passing, the nerveless 19-year old seemingly unimpressed by the occasion. As for Kyriakos Papadopoulos, a logical introduction for his injured namesake Avraam, he was a tower of strength and silenced the menace of Robert Lewandowski.
Of course, if I had written the scenario, Greece would have won. Just for one reason: the penalty wouldn't have been missed. It was heartbreaking to see Giorgos Karagounis downbeat afterwards because of this great chance that had slipped through his hands. I am sure that the 118-cap captain – "a real leader", as my good Polish friend Jan said admiringly yesterday – will bounce back and he will accept that it was simply the moment for Przemysław Tytoń to shine.
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