Before he stepped on to the turf at the National Stadium Warsaw on Friday, Przemyslaw Tyton was told by Adam Matuszczyk to “save the penalty and go down in history”. Moments later, Tyton, having composed himself in the aftermath of Wojciech Szczesny’s 69th-minute red card, sprang to his left to turn away Giorgos Karagounis’s spot kick for Greece.
In that moment, a new Polish star was born, though several days later it is clear the PSV Eindhoven custodian is still uncomfortable with his new-found status.
“I could feel that the fans were counting on me, but the match wasn’t over at that point, regardless of whether I saved the penalty or not,” Tyton told UEFA.com. “We can’t say what would have happened later. We drew the game [1-1] and now everybody thinks that I’m the hero, but I don’t think that.”
Saving penalties has become something of a habit for Tyton, his exploits earning him the sobriquet of the ‘Penalty Killer’ in the Netherlands. However, the modest 25-year-old would be the first to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Phillip Cocu, the PSV caretaker coach who promoted him ahead of Andreas Isaksson after taking over from Fred Rutten towards the end of last season.
Cocu’s faith in the Pole has been amply rewarded, not least in the semi-finals of the Dutch Cup when Tyton saved a penalty from SC Heerenveen striker Das Dost to book PSV’s place in the showpiece, which they won. Before that game Tyton refused to watch videos of his opponents’ spot kicks, preferring instead to “act on how I feel”.
Making instinctive penalty saves in the Eredivisie is one thing, doing the same in the opening game of UEFA EURO 2012 with your first touch of the ball is quite another, something even the modest Tyton is prepared to concede.
“I have been very successful in saving penalties,” he said. “The world may have already heard about me but this is the opening game of the European Championship we are talking about. Ultimately I just helped my team; that is what my coach, the team and the nation expected from me.”
Coincidentally, Tyton now prepares to face Dick Advocaat, the man who will be his coach at PSV next season, as Poland take on Russia in Group A on Tuesday. With so much history and rivalry between the two nations, he predicts an enthralling encounter.
“This will be a game like no other we have seen in the tournament so far,” added Tyton, who could have made a career as a professional dancer before choosing football. “People treat it not only as a sporting clash. Russia have a very good team but we must get some points from this match. Hopefully, we will be the ones with the biggest smiles at the end of the game.”
Whether he is smiling or dancing remains to be seen but, for now, Tyton is relishing the responsibility of holding Poland’s fate in his hands.