I’m still recovering today after what was, in my humble opinion, the game of the tournament so far. With so much riding on the match, Poland were able to put on a very fine performance, especially in the second half, to send their fans celebrating into the night. Yes it was a draw, but it didn’t feel like one.
Before I go into my impressions of the game I just want to say a word about the horrible stuff that happened outside the ground, before and after the match.
Firstly, however terribly the Polish fans behaved, and don’t get me wrong it was horrendous, the roots of all the bedlam has to be seen in the decision of Russian fans to try to get approval to march through Warsaw. Once they decided to seek approval it put the city authorities in a very uncomfortable position. One of the main goals of the tournament for Poland is to show the world it is an open, tolerant and democratic country. So in many respects Warsaw authorities had to allow the march to take place, but I bet they weren’t very happy when they first received news of the decision to march.
In the days leading up to the game right-wing, hooligan portals have stirred up the tension and it seems that these forums were planning the attacks which took place yesterday. I can see why hooligans saw the whole march as a provocation but it doesn’t excuse their behaviour. Anyway it all kicked off and many Poles are very ashamed at what happened, this can be shown by a gif that is doing the rounds on the internet
Do be honest I don’t believe that the Russian fans are ‘awesome’ at all but anyway at least Poles are trying to make amends for what happened. I’m just glad the problems around the game are over, and we can continue to enjoy what has been a fantastic tournament so far.
As for the game itself, it was superb and I hope that all the stupidity surrounding it does not overshadow the sheer quality of match that we saw last night. Me and a large group of friends made our way to watch it in the massive Lolek pub not far from the Metro stop Pole Mokotowskie (‘Mokotow fields’). Lolek is an enormous place, there must have been about a thousand people inside and there were lots of visitors from different countries drinking to their hearts content and wolfing down traditional Polish fare such as Kielbasa sausages, pickles and cabbage salad.
There was huge expectation before the game and the tension was palpable. It was disappointing to see that the Polish trainer Smuda had not made any changes from the first match with Greece and the first half followed a similar pattern to what we had seen on Friday. Poland winning possession and playing too many long balls to their lone striker Lewandowski who then lost the ball and Russia, with their slick passing and great technique, then went on the attack. Poland scored a disallowed goal in the 16th minute and, such were the nerves, people all around us didn’t realise it wasn’t a goal for a couple of minutes! Russia got stronger as the match went on and eventually scored a poor goal from the Polish standpoint through the impressive Alan Dzagoev. Polish heads went down and the atmosphere was pretty flat until half-time.
In the second half something changed, Smuda had obviously told his charges to stop hoofing it up to Lewandowski and play it on the ground more. It worked, Poland broke up Russian attacks well and started to press through the impressive Blaszczykowski, Murawski and others. Sebastian Boenisch also attacked with flair on the left. When the Polish goal came it was a beauty, Piszczek playing the ball to the onrushing Blaszczykowski who cut inside and fired an unstoppable left-footed shot past Malafeev. The pub we were in erupted with sheer joy and there were chants all around of ‘jeszcze jeden’ ‘We want another!’. The remaining 30 minutes were pretty even with the Poles counter-attacking and the Russians continuing to have more possession.
When the final whistle blew there were also cheers all around, even though it was only a draw. In fact this slightly strange reaction was underlined by the compare of the night who screamed at us ‘Who won the match?!’ to which everyone shouted back ‘Poland!’ Well it certainly felt like a victory anyway.
So as the crowd trailed off into the night feeling happy and content we made our way home. Now we know that beating the Czechs on Saturday will send Poland through. If Poland play like they they did last night I think they’ll be fine. But boy is it going to be tense!