By Samindra Kunti in Saint Petersburg
June 14 – Slovakia provided the first significant upset of Euro 2020, beating ten-man Poland 2-1 with a second-half winner from Milan Skriniar to take the lead in Group E and leave their opponents’ chances hanging by a thread.
It was a solo run and finish from late bloomer Robert Mak that ignited the curtain raiser in Group E. Mak left both Bartosz Bereszynski and Kamil Jozwiak floundering on the right before beating Wojciech Szczesny at the near post. Mak’s strike was credited as an own goal, encapsulating Poland’s difficult start.
Szczesny was sent off in the opening match of Euro 2012, but on this occasion he was not the sole culprit despite being credited with the own-goal. His defense struggled unable to handle Slovakia’s wingers and Duda’s versatility. The Poles did enjoy the bulk of possession, but the huff and puff from Paulo Sousa’s team did not match the creativity of Slovakia, 15 places below them in the FIFA ranking. Ironically, with the fire power of Robert Lewandowski upfront, Poland looked lacking in quality when going forward, unable to get the ball to their star man, who looked hurried when he did touch the ball.
On the face of it, Sousa required a change of plan at half-time to break down the stubborn Slovakian defence, but his team, unchanged, levelled straight after the restart with a slick move that carved open the Slovak defense for surprise starter Karol Linetty to tap in the equalizer from close range.
Suddenly, Poland were not just in control, but found an urgency to their game that had been sorely lacking. With their intention and intensity, they pressed Slovakia back and both Linetty and Kamil Glik missed opportunities, but just as the Polish seemed in total command Gregorz Krychowiak was sent off with a second yellow car for a late foul on Jakub Hromada.
Within minutes the Slovaks capitalised when Milan Skriniar struck from the edge of the box to renew his team’s lead. Sousa introduced all of Przemysław Frankowski, Tymoteusz Puchacz, Jakub Moder and Karol Świderski to give his team fresh legs, but an impotent Poland couldn’t rescue a point, not even in a frantic finale when Jan Bednarek squandered a glorious opportunity in the box.
“The idea was to be the protagonist with the ball and create chances, and we did that,” said Sousa at a news conference. “We could do better, yes. We need to be better and show more courage, especially in our back line.”
Poland and Sousa have a mountain climb when they meet Spain next. In Seville, Luis Enrique’s team failed to score against Sweden in their opening game of the tournament, attempting more than 900 passes.
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