Story by Aaron Bliss
Poland 1 – 1 Russia
Other than competing for the longest and most consonant-laden names, Poland and Russia also have something of a history of conflict, which was accentuated by the appointment of German officials for this Group A clash. Politics aside, the host nation were not giving much of a chance against a Russian side who appeared formidable in their opening match. In fact, while Dick Advocaat’s red rebels were busy tearing the Czechs a new Republic, Poland were labouring to a draw against a Greek side making dire sound like a compliment. That said, the Poles had high hopes that Borussia Dortmund trio Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek could give them an opportunity of snatching something on the break. As all good tournaments do, this game made a mockery of the form guide. Perhaps there was something in the suggestion that Poland suffered from weight of expectation against Greece, because they were superb here, and deserved a victory against a Russian side who took the lead against the run of play, when Alan Dzagoev, a real star of the tournament so far, nipped in unchecked to flick Arshavin’s free-kick past Przemyslaw Tyton. Poland already had a right to feel aggrieved, having had a fabulously worked goal chalked off for offside, and seeing Russian goalkeeper Malafeev enjoy a huge slice of luck, as a dangerous free-kick saw a bullet header from point-blank range strike him on the inside of his left leg and bounce away. Russia’s typically technically assured passing was not incisive enough, and Poland enjoyed the lion’s share of chances, though frustrated until just before the hour mark, when a rapid counter-attack saw Lukas Piszczek play a nice ball inside the full-back, upon which Jakub Blaszczykowski seized, taking a deft touch outside the blocking defender, before lashing a glorious piledriver into the top corner with his left foot to bring the house down in Warsaw.
Greece 1-2 Czech Republic
When Greece stunned Europe eight years ago, they had talismanic target man Angeleos Charisteas scoring goals. Powerful, composed and imperious in the air, he looked like a hero from Greek mythology, and played like one too. Just to top it off, his names rhymed, making him a favourite with embattled commentators and their aching tongues. Greece have recently stunned Europe in a rather more unwanted way, and, as if to illustrate this shift in fortunes, their great white hope up front now resembles a sleazy Xanthi date rapist. I joke of course, but the closest that Georgios Samaras comes to matching Charisteas’ aerial prowess is bringing down planes with his shooting. Grecian 2012 are nothing like as potent in covering inadequacy as their forebears, and, besides Samaras, perhaps the greatest illustration of this devolution is their goalkeeper. Antonios Nikopolidis was the silver fox in goal in 2004, and his composure and ability ensured their success. Kostas Chalkias is the present incumbent, most remembered for a dismal spell on loan at Portsmouth, and within the first six minutes of this match, he had made a complete hash of dealing with two early efforts from Petr Jiracek and a bundled effort from Vaclav Pilar, though he was not assisted by his dozy left-back Jose Holebas. Despite this calamitous start, and their renowned cautious nature, Greece can feel once again as if officiating decisions cost them, as they had a superb header disallowed wrongly for offside in the first half, and then, incredibly, a free-kick given against them when two attackers were clearly pushed in the back inside the Czech penalty box. Having gone in at half-time two goals clear, the Czechs should have used the second half to gain some momentum and see the game out with confidence. Instead, Petr Cech’s Euro nightmare was resurrected, as he allowed an awful, aimless ball from Samaras to slip straight through his gloves for Gekas to roll into the unguarded net. Whether the looming figure of his own defender close to his vulnerable head put him off or not, Cech breathed a huge sigh of relief at the final whistle that his gaffe did not, like last time, prove the Czechs’ undoing.