The big kick off

So five years of nerves and anticipation are over and everything gets started tomorrow when the co-hosts play their first match against Greece at 18:00 CET.  The excitement has built to a crescendo in the last week or so and Warsaw is clearly anxious for the whole thing to get going.

In the last week a smart train link between the town centre and the airport has been completed as well as a major motorway, the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has crowed about the massive civilisational leap that Poland has made over the last five years, and the city has been invaded by a whole host of confused looking foreigners, many with VIP packs hanging round their necks.  We’ve also seen Polish flags emerge from every nook and cranny of the city and the Spanish team being bemused by a large loaf of Polish bread.

In other news:

1) There has been a spirited fight back against the supposedly sensationalist coverage of the BBC’s ‘Stadiums of Hate’ program.  The head of the Jewish Community Centre in Krakow, Jonathan Ornstein, has railed against the BBC’s refusal to discuss any of the positive steps made regarding anti-Semitism in Poland over the last ten years, and the fact they wouldn’t interview two Jewish football players who play in Krakow. I just sincerely hope that no racist incidents occur during the tournament and to be honest I’m sure they won’t.

2)Polish-Russian tensions continue to simmer in the run-up to the massive match between the two sides on June 12 in the Polish national stadium.  The latest clash concerns the desire of Russian football fans to march through the centre of Warsaw after the game to celebrate Russia Day (when Russia declared sovereignty from the USSR way back in 1990).  Russian fans have contacted Warsaw city authorities to make the march legal.  This request has of course met with opposition from some Poles. Polish Newsweek called the decision to march ‘A good idea.  But one that will anger Patriotic circles’.  The magazine wasn’t wrong, as a whole host of people criticised the plans to march on that day, including comments about how marching with banners bearing hammers and sickles (which some marchers hope to do) is illegal under Polish law.

I for one hope the march won’t go ahead.  I think there’s enough tension regarding the game anyway, and in Russian-Polish relations for that matter, to add a march on top of it all.  I suppose if the Poles win on the 12th it won’t really matter…

3)A massive fan zone has been erected in the centre of Warsaw.  It holds 100,000 people and there will be a host of concerts and other events during the time of the tournament.  Oh and obviously a number of massive screens on which to watch the footie!  The zone opened today and as far as I can see the photographer did what all good photographers do at events such as this, that’s right, look for attractive ladies.

I’ll be heading there tomorrow to watch the game, so will let you all know what the atmosphere is like there then…

4)Now all that’s left is to hope Poland beat Greece in the opening game.  I’m quietly confident the Polish team will come out on top.  With their three on-form German title winners from Borussia Dortmund, Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski (thankfully nicknamed Kuba for short) and Lukasz Piszczek, and Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal fame, they have, in my opinion, a good chance of getting out of a relatively weak group with Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic.

So my prediction? 2-0 via a Lewandowski double and the country to go to their beds later that night with smiles on their faces, love in their hearts and too much alcohol in their bellies.

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