Polish hosts in generous mood as party begins

 

IT IS NOT often a football tournament begins with a partial rendition of Chopin’s Études, Opus 25, No 11. Even more unusual is to see a classical pianist get up from the keyboard and start playing “keepy-uppy” with a football.

Yet that is how these most keenly anticipated of European Championship finals kicked off, in front of 56,070 wildly enthusiastic fans in a full national stadium in Warsaw last night, when host country Poland disappointingly drew 1-1 with Greece.

Tomorrow it is Ireland’s turn. Giovanni Trapattoni’s men line out against Croatia in Poznan in the most eagerly awaited game Ireland have played in a decade.

As for Poland, it had all started swimmingly, with star striker Robert Lewandowski scoring an excellent 19th minute goal to put the Poles in front. With Greece down to 10 men before half time, Poland looked like a shoo-in to make the perfect start.

Alas, it was not to be, as the doughty Greeks made the most of a Polish defensive mix-up to score a 51st-minute equaliser through substitute Dimitris Salpingidis.

The excitement on the pitch proved to be a welcome antidote to the persistent speculation that episodes of racism could spoil the party.

Dutch team captain Mark Van Bommel complained to reporters of racist chanting aimed at the black players in his squad during a Thursday open training session in Krakow, saying the players were greeted with “monkey chants” by a section of spectators.

For the time being, the Dutch federation will not be making a formal complaint but Uefa has been “made aware” of the matter. In a statement yesterday, Uefa indicated it would be be taking no immediate action, but it has a zero-tolerance policy to such abuse and has given power to referees to stop matches in cases of repeated racist behaviour.