For all of you who have read my opening blog “Introduction to a Greek Tragedy” published before Greece’s first game in this tournament, you will know that we were looking for a number of elements in this opening game against Poland that would make the perfect tragedy.
In true Greek style, my adopted team certainly didn’t let us down, every part of the tragedy was played out with enough drama and suspense to make us all wonder if Act Two & Three against the Czech Republic & Russia respectively, would ever live up to this opening performance.
If you haven’t read the opening blog then prepare for a short lesson in Greek tragedy.
All Greek tragedy’s are based on a hero, after the opening game last night, I have without any doubt placed Dimitris Salpingidis in this role for Act One. After a dismal first half performance by the whole Greek side, who seemed to want to adopt a 2-5-3 system which had full backs walking off stage, forgetting their lines for the most part and encouraging the mainly Polish audience, to believe they were about to start the campaign with a comprehensive win. Maybe it was stage fright but Greece could have been out of this game before the interlude, conceding a goal on 16 minutes with resulted from a stray pass in midfield, a missing full back and a goalkeeper who fluffed his lines was a bad enough start, but their lack of creativity, ability to find each other with a simple pass or overall desire, suggested that Poland might just make this more than a tragedy.
Just before the entrance of our hero Dimitris, more tragedy befell the Greeks, having lost one central defender in Avraam Papadopoulos through injury on 35 minutes, only eight minutes later his partner at the back Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off for a second yellow card, probably the softest sending off ever witnessed in Greek history. This act looked like it might bring another element to our Greek tragedy, one that we had not considered, Greek coach Fernando Santos re-action to the sending off was to portray a look of nothing short of suicidal tendencies on his face, either that or a revenge on Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo that would probably be best carried out off the stage.
Change of Fortune
The second part of a Greek tragedy is to bring about a change of fortune, after a brief interlude we saw the introduction of our hero Dimitris, a half time substitute that instigated this key element of the tragedy by injecting some purpose and direction that the Greek side just didn’t posses in the first half. The fact that Dimitris replaced star man Ninis may have made the small blue section of the audience believe it was damage limitation exercise, but with a more orthodox 4-3-2 formation in place, the Greek’s looked better balanced and a more attacking threat.
It wasn’t long into the second half when our hero showed his quality, an equaliser on 50 minutes, Dimitris firing the ball home after a mix up in the Polish defence starting a change of fortune that no-one could have predicted at half time.
Fate & Calamity
There is always some fate and a little calamity played out in a good Greek tragedy, both elements came on 67 minutes when our hero Dimitris still having a huge effect on proceedings found himself alone in the box, one on one with the keeper only to be pulled down by Wojciech Szczesny in what can only be described as a calamitous challenge that saw the polish keeper seeing red and a penalty awarded to the Greek side.
Enter the fate element, captain Giorgos Karagounis, Greek legend with 118 appearances behind him for his country places the ball on the spot to take the penalty against one Przemysław Tytoń, rookie Polish keeper on to replace Szczesny having only ever appeared for his country five times before. The critical moment in the tragedy, the moment when our hero Dimitris looks on knowing he has turned his country’s fortune’s around, hero status about to be confirmed when Karagounis tears up the script and sees his penalty saved by Tyton. The first ever penalty saved by a substitute goalkeeper in the history of the European Championships.
Coach Fernando Santos returns to looking suicidal, the polish fans hail a new hero and somehow it seems inevitable that the highlight of this tragedy has passed and the remaining moments will be played out in a stalemate. There was however another moment of genius from our hero Dimitris, on 73 minutes he scored again, only to have the goal ruled out for offside, a debatable decision and one for the critics and reporters to review after the game.
When the final curtain came down, the points were shared but both teams will feel they should have gone on to seal all three points.
As mentioned in my opening blog, all our hero’s have a flaw, one that has to be overcome in some way to make the perfect tragedy work. Identified as the lack of goal scorers and goals in my introduction, there is no reason to believe that the Greek flaw still remains after this game, despite the introduction of our new hero Dimitris, the Greek front line has no clinical finisher and limited creativity to supply chances. They may have got away with it on this opening game but with free scoring Russia to come in the final game, some goals and three points against the Czech Republic will now be crucial to extend this tragedy past a trilogy.
In all Greek tragedies, the main actors and the hero are expected to show some honour. At half time it looked like the Greek side would be returning to their homeland, tails between their legs and adding to the country’s already down hearted public. A second half display though showed that the Greek side do indeed have some honour, the introduction of Kyriakos Papadopoulos all be it through injury, gave the back four more resilience. Papadopoulos proved why many European clubs are watching him as he organised the back four and kept the full backs from wondering off. Captain Giorgos Karagounis despite his penalty miss, ran for ninety minutes and lead by example, if he can get enough recovery time between now and the next game he will be vital to Greece qualifying from this group. Finally our hero Dimitris surely has to start the next tragedy after his game changing performance last night.
Act Two Czech Republic
So on to Act Two against the Czech Republic in Wroclaw next Tuesday, from the first act we know honour should not be a problem, we have witnessed how the Greeks’ can change their fortunes, can ride a little fate, and have a new hero.
We just have to work on that flaw during rehearsal for Act Two.
Finally in the continued words of Aristotle: “Well begun is half done” a thought the Greek side need to take forward to Tuesday.