PHOTOS: Lack of matches shows as Poles lose their way
Poland's lack of a competitive game in more than two years may have played a part in Franciszek Smuda's otherwise vibrant young side being held to a 1-1 draw by a streetwise Greece in Euro 2012's opening game on Friday.
The hosts looked great for the first quarter, forcing mistakes from the Greeks in their own half and repeatedly driving forward. However, after Robert Lewandowski's 17th minute opener they looked unsure of what to do next and instead of going for the kill, allowed their opponents to regroup and get back into the game.
Maybe it was the lack of experience for a side who did not have to qualify for what is only Poland's second ever appearance at the finals and first tournament since Smuda arrived in 2009 to rebuild the team almost from scratch.
Image: Robert Lewandowski of Poland looks on during the UEFA EURO 2012 group A match between Poland and Greece at National Stadium
Photographs: Getty Images
Red card for Sokratis
They were made to pay for it by a Greek side who recovered well from centre half Sokratis Papastathopoulos's harsh red card at the end of the first half, helped by the inspired introduction of Dimitris Salpingidis at halftime.
Still, there was much to admire in the hosts' first half domination.
Man of the match Lewandowski, the Bundesliga's third highest scorer this year, looked a handful for a Greek defence that had given away just five goals in qualifying.
He was well served in the first half by Borussia Dortmund team mates Lukasz Piszczek and Jakub Blaszczykowski down the right wing.
But Maciej Rybus, a revelation on the left in a handful of friendlies this year against second rank European opposition, was unable to make the same impression.
Worse still, left-back Sebastian Boenisch - who is not the player he was in 2010 after a knee injury - was consistently beaten for pace out wide, including for the Greek goal.
Image: Greece's players react on a red card for Sokratis Papastathopoulos (R) during the Group A Euro 2012 soccer match against Poland at the National Stadium
Tyton saves the day for Poles
Smuda has options to replace both, but of more concern was how creaky the defence overall looked for much of the second half as the Poles' midfield tired of pressing the Greeks and began to set deeper.
Smuda will also hope Przemyslaw Tyton's penalty save showed he has the mentality to step in for the rest of the group stage after Wojciech Szczesny's red card.
Little known until about a year ago, he was the Poles fourth choice keeper behind Lukasz Fabianski - injured recently in training - and Artur Boruc - banned by Smuda for drinking.
Image: Poland's goalkeeper Tyton saves a penalty kick of Greece's Karagounis during their Group A Euro 2012 soccer match at the National stadium
Salpigidis scored the equalizer for Greece
The Greeks, for their part, can count themselves unlucky not to have repeated 2004's win over the hosts in the tournament's opener as they showed the same fighting spirit that took them all the way to the title in Portugal.
Smuda may find himself criticised for making no tactical substitutions all game, despite his side looking short of steam before halftime in the national stadium's closed-roof humidity.
By contrast, Greek coach Fernando Santos made a perfectly judged move in bringing on Salpigidis against Boenisch on the right. His pace generated both the opener and Szczesny's red card, when he was tripped bearing down on goal.
Image: Greece's Dimitris Salpingidis celebrates with his team mate Giorgos Samaras after scoring againist Poland
Must win games
The Greeks' other standout was Giorgos Samaras, who despite being consistently double-teamed by the Poles, always looked a threat and rarely lost the ball going forward.
His only blemish was missing a great chance right at the death.
After a very poor first half performance by a defence vaunted as one of the best in Europe, the Greeks will be buoyed by their comeback, yet frustrated by their penalty miss.
"The opening game in such a big tournament often ends with a draw but all is not lost," said Poland coach Franciszek Smuda.
"We will play at least two more matches at Euro 2012 and we must win both of them," he added.
Image: Greece's Papadopoulos kicks ball during the Group A Euro 2012 soccer match against Poland