Generally, the first match of major tournaments is often played and officiated conservatively. However, this game was far from ordinary with multiple goals, a controversial sending off in the first half, a not-given penalty appeal for handball, a goalkeeper dismissed and the substitute goalkeeper saving the ensuing penalty all in the opening match of EURO 2012.
To Err is to Referee
Carlos Velasco Carballo is a top Elite referee who has been a part of numerous top-flight matches (most recently as Fourth Official in the 2012 Champions League Final). With that said, he undoubtedly knows what he is doing. Whether it was the pre-tournament instructions from UEFA or Carballo exhibiting a pedantic style, the officiating in this particular match was unnecessarily strict and harsh. The most successful referees often find that they are at their best when they are seemingly "invisible" throughout the match. Carlos Caballo was certainly not invisible during the match and often imposed himself when he did not or should not have needed to. To make things worse, Pierluigi Collina the UEFA Chief Refereeing Officer was the Referee Observer for this match. Carballo's chances for a KO stage match in this tournament appear slim to none at this point.
10 v 10
Two red cards were shown by Velasco Carballo, both having a tremendous impact on the match. A very harsh yellow card was shown to Papastathopoulos in the 35' for a seemingly innocuous 50-50 challenge for a header around midfield. This card was likely issued by Carballo to assert his authority and perhaps to "keep things even" but it would later come back to make things very difficult for him. Papastathopoulos was shown a second yellow card and dismissed in the 44' for what Carballo judged to be a tactical foul. Replays show that the attacker was off-balance at the time of the challenge making the decision more controversial. Although this yellow is more understandable than the first, Papastathopoulos will count himself as very unlucky to be shown two harsh yellows in a short time. In the 69' the Polish keeper Szczesny was sent off for a clear foul in the penalty area after the Greek attacker was through on goal (I have not seen any replays to determine if he was onside, but the penalty and red card decisions were definitely correct).
The Penalty that was and the Penalty that never was
Just before halftime, the Greeks desperately appealed for a handball penalty that was not given. Replays show that the ball clearly struck the Polish defenders hand, however it was certainly not intentional. This makes the referees decision very difficult as UEFA directives often require intent and deliberateness to be taken into consideration. Personally, I feel the no-call was the correct decision. For this decision, Carballo probably relied on his AAR stationed on the goal line. Holebas was cautioned soon after the no-call for mobbing the referee which is something UEFA made very clear would be punished with a yellow card. As already stated, the Greeks were eventually awarded a penalty when Szczesny was sent off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity via a foul (correct decision). However, to add to the drama, the Polish substitute keeper saved the ensuing penalty.
Good Second Half
For all the trouble and controversy Carlos Velasco Carballo experienced in the first half, he had a very good second half and should be praised for turning things around after a poor first half performance. Carballo, his ARs, and his AARs were almost always correct in the second half with a correctly disallowed goal for offside, better foul detection and yellow card criteria, and an increased sense of control from the match officials.
What a Game
This was an incredibly exciting match full of unexpected twists, and if the rest of the tournament is anything like this, we are sure to have a memorable tournament. The Polish will probably be disappointed with the result, but at the end of the day, both teams should be content with a point.