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In the first of UEFA.com's three-part series looking back at UEFA EURO 2012, we focus on the co-hosts' campaigns and recall a sublime moment from Andrea Pirlo.
Five years after the tournament was awarded to Poland and Ukraine, the Polish national team kicked off proceedings on 8 June and had to wait only 17 minutes to celebrate. Yet while talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski put the home side in front, Franciszek Smuda's men had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Greece in the Group A opener in Warsaw – and ultimately failed to make it to the last eight.
"The European Championship was something unique," said Lewandowski. "A great event not only for Poles but also for the whole of Europe. New stadiums, great expectations, a big football feast, a nice atmosphere. It's a pity we didn't win that match [against Greece], but it was a great experience to score a goal with millions of Poles watching us on TV and thousands at the stadium, all united and crossing their fingers for us. The frenzy and the happiness were unbelievable and difficult to describe. It was something extraordinary."
Equally remarkable was Ukraine's bow in the competition three days later, the country's all-time leading scorer Andriy Shevchenko augmenting his tally with two more goals as Oleh Blokhin's team came from behind to win 2-1 against Sweden in Kyiv. "I have so many emotions right now," said Shevchenko at the time. "This is fantastic. The European Championship, playing at home, the opening match, and we win 2-1! I am so happy, so emotional. Thanks to all the supporters who came to cheer us on."
Ukraine went on to suffer the same fate as their fellow hosts and slipped at the first hurdle, while one of the sides that qualified from Group D at their expense – England – fell victim to one of the tournament's standout moments. Having held Italy to a goalless draw in the quarter-finals, Roy Hodgson's charges lost a penalty shoot-out which included an outrageous Antonín Panenka-style spot kick from Andrea Pirlo.
"I wasn't thinking about anything," the elegant midfielder said of his cheeky chip. "I went over to the penalty spot, saw the goalkeeper jumping up and down, and decided to take the penalty that way – and it went in." The Azzurri kept it similarly understated all the way to the final, though they would be outplayed in the decider as Spain secured a third consecutive major trophy.
UEFA.com shifts its focus to the Spanish success story in the second part of our UEFA EURO 2012 series on 8 December.
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