Poland hopes pride doesn't herald a fall

The start went well but co-hosts want more than just praise for organisation


Hours after their team had blown a 1-0 half-time lead against the 10 men of Greece on Friday the overwhelming emotion in Poland was pride. It was not that they viewed a point against Greece as a wonderful result, it was that, after all the years of wondering whether this still-developing country would be ready on time, the European Championship had finally begun, and done so successfully. The new National Stadium, with its attractive roof, had staged the match and a neat opening ceremony without mishap. Road closures meant getting around was not as easy as it might be, but such teething problems are familiar to all big tournaments and are likely to ease as police adjust.

The festive spirit which had filled Warsaw before the game remained into the early hours of Saturday morning. In a side street off Aleje Jerozolimskie, near Parade Square where 100,000 Poles had earlier crammed into the Fan Park to watch the opening game, an impromptu football match was taking place with bins rather than jumpers for goalposts.

There were black faces among the crowds of people wandering the bars and clubs but no overt signs of hostility towards them or anyone else, despite the vast quantities of alcohol which had been consumed. Similarly during the game while the noisy pocket of Greek fans was occasionally jeered, there was no sense of menace or intimidation at any stage. The last time this reporter was here, with Kevin Keegan's England in 1999, English and Polish fans fought pre-arranged battles on waste land around the capital,before attempting to fight each other in an old crumbling stadium. When fences and police preventedthis, the Poles fought amongst themselves.

Poland has come a long way since then, despite the ugly attitudes captured by BBC's Panorama programme on racism. Cranes dot the Warsaw skyline, testament to ongoing investment in a country which had been hoping to join the euro before the currency's current troubles put such ambitions on hold.

For Poland, and Ukraine, this tournament is a rare chance to be centre stage on a global level. Thus the concern about the image of the country portrayed by Panorama and the monkey chants directed at Dutch players training in Krakow. One image on display this week has been a message scrawled on a Polish flag: "Welcome BBC to the real Poland". Another is the vast banner hanging on the side of the monumental Palace of Culture and Science above the Fan Park. On it is a picture of the statue of the composer Frederick Chopin, dressed in Polish kit with his boots slung around his neck. The message reads "fun welcomes fans". The 758ft-tall building was "a gift" from the Russian people to Poland in Stalin's time. Quite what the murderous dictator would think of its new decoration, or the artwork painted by telecommunications company Orange on the Novotel opposite, welcoming the supporters of a clutch of capitalist Cold War enemies in their own language, one can barely imagine.

Poland's red-and-white halved flag is everywhere, much as the Union Jack was in Britain last weekend. Even club-goers were wearing Polish scarves and shirts on Friday night. The patriotic pride is doubtless helped by the Przemyslaw Tyton's moment of glory a few hours earlier. Pleased as the Poles are that the opening day went without a hitch had Franciszek Smuda's team lost their first match there would have been a sense of anti-climax.

The PSV Eindhoven goalkeeper's penalty save meant a match that should have been won was at least not lost.

Tyton will start against Russia on Tuesday and, if he acquits himself well against Dick Advocaat's free-scoring side could keep his place even when Wojciech Szczesny returns from suspension. The Arsenal goalkeeper's inexperience betrayed him on Friday. He was at fault for Greece's leveller even before his dismissal.

Decision-making is the common weakness in young goalkeepers and, under pressure of the occasion, Szczesny's was poor. England will hope Joe Hart does not exhibit similar nerves tomorrow.

While Poland looked shaky defensively there was hope in the performances and link-play of their Borussia Dortmund trio: right-back Lukasz Piszczek, captain and right-sided midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski and goalscorer Robert Lewandowski. If they can avoid defeat against Russia, and they may play with more freedom having finally got the opening game under their belt despite the history which weighs on the match, qualification is possible, though it is hard to imagine them going much further.

Respectability is the hope for most Poles for their team, and for their country's delivery of their half of the tournament. So far they have made a good start on both counts.

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