So Poland are out, the King is dead. A tournament that had promised so much, and had started so brightly has come to a close for the co-hosts in bitter disappointment and ignominy. The Poles weren’t able to get the win they needed against the Czechs to send them through to the quarter finals. Not only did they not win a game in the tournament, they came bottom of what was considered to be the weakest group in this year’s Euros.
As soon as the final whistle was blown, social media and press outlets went into the usual self-recrimination that comes with exits from major tournaments. Many said the Polish team lacked willpower and the belief that would send them through, a characteristic of Polish teams in the past. One asked sarcastically how could the Polish national team backed by a Catholic God be defeated by a bunch of atheists and Greek Orthodox believers? The ex-head of Polish talk radio Ewa Wanat applauded the end of the tournament (sic!) as it meant Poles could go back to worrying about important issues such as the state of the roads, women’s rights and the lack of pre-schools in the country. So the usual irrational and unpleasant responses after what was a painful blow to Polish pride.
One more thoughtful blogger, Michał Okoński, for the Polish intellectual Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny put things into perspective. Amongst all the negativity, he stated, the clear reason for Poland’s failure to progress was the lack of a midfielder who could link play properly. Poland had a couple of good defenders in Damien Perquis, Lukasz Piszczek, a great right midfielder in Blaszczykowski and a fine striker in Lewandowski but no-one to integrate them all into a fluid attacking force. Too many balls were played up to the isolated Lewandowski and there was no-one there to support him when he won the ball (which was relatively rare). Okonski however sees hope in the future, the Polish team is still young and can hopefully do well in the World Cup Finals (should they get there) in two years’ time. They will have to do so without their manager Franciszek Smuda, who decided to step down after the game last night. Whoever succeeds him will take over a talented group of players, if he can blend them into a team I think Poland could well be a force soon.
As for my personal experience yesterday, I didn’t watch the game versus the Czechs, me and some friends were instead at the attractive national stadium in Warsaw to see the Greeks come out on top, against all expectations, against Russia.
The stadium itself is beautiful, think Wembley but more cosy, a little bit similar to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. The stadium was dominated by Russian fans belting out their chant of ‘Rossiya, Rossiya’, we were closest to the mass of Russian fans, at the other end were the small section of Greeks, with their lovely blue and white flags and shirts.
We were all expecting an easy Russian victory, after their demolition of the Czechs and their decent performance against Poland. Greece started strongly and had a couple of good chances but from the 15th minute onwards the pattern of the game was established, Russia passing (over-passing once could say) through the middle, trying to find a breakthrough through the Greek defence. Their play was however, on the whole, pedestrian and they didn’t seem to know how to mix it up enough to get the goal. Just before half-time (and against the run of play) Karagounis was put through for the Greeks and finished with aplomb. At that moment with Poland and the Czechs drawing Russia and Greece were going through.
During the second half the Russians predictably had a lot of the ball but really didn’t know what to do with it, they refused to play it wide and tried to find space through the middle, which the Greeks were fully prepared to deal with. Around 70 minutes information began to filter through that the Czechs had taken the lead against Poland, those Poles around us seemed very downbeat, the Czechs and Greeks were now going through to the quarters.
How would the Russians respond to this? A goal would take them through but they couldn’t get it, and didn’t look very accomplished in its pursuit. The closest they came was a Dzagoev header when at long last they put a cross in from the wings. It was a poor effort in general from the Russians and the match petered out. The final whistle blew and the pitch was invaded by the Greek bench. Somehow little Greece was going to play in the quarter finals.
By this time we all knew that Poland were out as well. Most of the stadium was thus distraught, including us as we made our way back home. As the rain fell we looked back to the chances that Poland had missed, which meant they weren’t progressing. No more overly-optimistic chants on buses, no more drunks discussing the winner of the Poland game on trams, it was all a bit of an anticlimax and a sad one.
The tournament however is not over, it’s on to the deciding matches in Group B tonight, will the Dutch qualify against all odds? We’ll see.
I for one hope Poland can keep its head up over the next couple of weeks. It’s been an excellent tournament so far, to which Polish fans have fully played their part. It’d be a shame if we all hung our heads in sorrow. Today is another day and the future, although it may not seem that way, is bright.