Greece denied Poland a winning start to UEFA EURO 2012 by coming from behind to claim a 1-1 draw in a dramatic opening match in Warsaw.
The home party looked in full swing at half-time after a first period of Polish dominance brought a Robert Lewandowski goal, but Greece, down to ten men after Sokratis Papastathopoulos's dismissal, responded with a 51st-minute equaliser from substitute Dimitris Salpingidis.
They might have won the game too when Wojciech Szczęsny brought down Salpingidis to earn himself a red card and give Greece a 71st-minute penalty. However, Giorgos Karagounis, a scorer when Greece beat Portugal in the UEFA EURO 2004 opener, failed to repeat history as Przemysław Tytoń saved his kick.
A draw did not appear likely in a first half controlled by Franciszek Smuda's co-hosts. Poland had not played a competitive international since October 2009 and began like a team desperate to make up for lost time. With the stands around them awash with red and white and a chorus of "Polska" ringing in their ears, it must have felt that their moment had come.
It took less than five minutes for Rafał Murawski to draw a tip-over save from Greece's goalkeeper, Kostas Chalkias, and the tone was set. Łukasz Piszczek, with a burst down the right and cross, was the architect of that opening and his partner-in-crime down Poland's right, Borussia Dortmund team-mate Jakub Błaszczykowski, was next to threaten, driving a first-time shot over.
Although Fanis Gekas glanced wide from a Karagounis free-kick, Greece were struggling to cope with Poland's speed and energy. Moreover, though Fernando Santos's men will have well known the threat of club-mates Piszczek, Błaszczykowski and Lewandowski, stopping the Bundesliga-winning trio was proving a different matter.
Lewandowski had just missed one Piszczek centre by a whisker when he nodded Poland in front from another in the 17th minute. This time, Błaszczykowski arrowed a deeper cross over from the right and Chalkias came out for the ball but was left stranded as Lewandowski got there first to head into the ground and high into the net.
Poland might have got a second goal when a free-kick fell invitingly to Damien Perquis inside the box, but he dragged his shot wide. At that point, Greece had just lost Avraam Papadopoulos to injury – replaced by Kyriakos Papadopoulos – and before half-time they lost another centre-back as Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card after a collision with Murawski.
The first half could hardly have gone worse for Greece, but they soon showed the mettle that had got them through qualifying unbeaten. Santos replaced Sotiris Ninis with Salpingidis at half-time and he made an immediate impact with the equaliser six minutes later. When Szczęsny challenged Gekas for a near-post Vassilis Torossidis cross, the ball bounced off his team-mate Marcin Wasilewski and Salpingidis steered it past Perquis on the line to become the first Greece player to score in both a UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup.
The "Polska" cries continued, only now with less conviction. Samaras miscued one chance and then came Karagounis's golden opportunity – and Tytoń's intervention. Poland survived another scare with a disallowed Salpingidis strike, but the result was right.