In every way, draw was the right result
IN THE end, as riot police marched into the ground in what seemed a provocative piece of heavy handed crowd control, a draw at the National Stadium was just about the right result.
Given all the historical bad blood between these two, one does not like to imagine what would have happened if Russia had won this one, in the process almost certainly eliminating the host nation.
Hero of the hour for the Poles was another of their three Borussia Dortmund musketeers, namely attacking midfielder Jakub Blaszyzykowski. With Poland seemingly on the ropes and trailing 0-1, he combined brilliantly down the right wing with fullback Lukasz Piszczek, before cutting inside to hit home one of the best goals of the tournament so far in the 59th minute.
That goal represented a remarkable fightback for the Poles who had appeared industrious and willing but outclassed in the first half. At half-time, the smart money was on Russia to run out comfortable winners.
That, however, was to overlook the immense sense of Polish pride on one of those footballing nights that truly was an “occasion”.
With the wildly patriotic crowd behind them all the way, the Poles picked up the pace in the second half, overwhelming the Russians and indeed even coming close to snatching all three points when Eugen Polanski had a 69th minute shot saved after another excellent Polish move down the right.
With two points in the bag, Poland now have to win their last game against the Czech Republic, who beat Greece 2-0 yesterday.
At the very least, the host nation have kept alive their hopes of making it to the quarter finals.
After the profligate manner in which they wasted a golden opportunity to take all three points against a modest Greek side in their opening game, last night’s point against the Russians, one of the best sides at these finals, may yet inspire them to further achievements against the Czechs.
Right from the kick-off, the Poles started with a bang, inspired by the patriotic wave of sound created by 50,000 fans screaming “Polska”. After only eight minutes, right back Sebastian Boenisch might have given the hosts the perfect start when he half connected with a free-kick from Ludovic Obraniak on the six-yard line. Goalkeeper Vyacheslave Malafeev stood firm and saved with his feet.
Three minutes later, another of the three Bundesliga winning stars at Borussia, striker Robert Lewandowski, indicated the extent to which he and Poland were up for it when rocketing a first-touch effort from the edge of the penalty area just over the box.
The Poles appeared to have left the disappointment of their opening draw with Greece behind them as they attacked with a sense of urgency and conviction, even having a well worked but clearly offside goal from Eugen Polanski overruled. Whilst the Polish were giving a “last ditch” performance that testified to their do or die moment, the Russians were looking rather more polished.
Former Arsenal schemer, Andrey Arshavin was looking very comfortable on the ball, playing in a classic number 10 playmaker role which saw him move freely from flank to flank as he made the most of the pace of both Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Kerzhakove up front. In the 39th minute, it was Arshavin who crafted the opening goal of the night when hitting a perfectly flighted, inswinging free kick which Dzagoev headed home at the end of a perfectly timed run.
At that stage, the Russians might have been tempted to feel that the job was done.
That, however, was to ignore fervent Polish pride.
FAN VIOLENCE: 100 ARRESTED
Yesterday’s game “kicked off” in precisely the manner that many had predicted with a series of scuffles amongst the fans.
In the end, at least 100 people were arrested and a number injured after Russian fans were attacked by Polish ultras as they marched en masse to the National Stadium.
As if the history between these two countries was not bad enough, yesterday’s game just happened to be played on the Russian national festival of June 12th. To mark the occasion, some 3,000 of the Russian fans marched en masse through the streets of Warsaw in what Polish ultras interpreted as an act of provocation.
One eyewitness told The Irish Times that an apparently peaceful group of Russian fans including men and women were suddenly set upon by a small number of ultras.
Initial reports, subsequently denied by Polish police, suggested that one fan had been killed.
Poland – Mierzejewski for Dudka (73 mins), Matuschyk for Polanski (85 mins), Brozek for Obraniak (90 mins).
Russia – Pavlyuchenko for Kerzhakov (70 mins), Izmailov for Dzagoev (79 mins).
Poland – Blaszczykowski 57
Russia – Dagoev 37
Poland – Lewandowski, Polanski
Russia – Denisov, Dzagoev
REFEREEW Stark (Germany)