Pressure increases on Poland amid hooliganism fears

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The Independent Football

Given the incendiary nature of tonight's encounter with Germany the words chosen by Grzegorz Lato, the legendary Polish striker, were unwise. "A game with the Germans is a game about everything," he said. "It's about life and death."

The meeting in Group A in Dortmund had long been identified by the authorities and police as the one with most potential for violence in this World Cup. It really could be a question of life or death with the hooligan element among the Poles, in particular, having long talked up their intentions. A clash between gangs last November ended in 85 arrests.

Many will congregate here and there is unlikely to be the party atmosphere there was in Gelsenkirchen against Ecuador. That was until Poland lost. Afterwards the streets to the station were littered with drunken bodies and abusive supporters.

The fall-out from the loss has hit hard. Coach Pawel Janas has adopted a siege mentality while former players have criticised his tactics. The words of Lato, now a politician, are given added force because he was the competition's top-scorer the last time the World Cup was held in Germany. That acts as a reminder of past glories although even that team, as good as it was, lost to the Germans. Gerd Müller scored the only goal in the semi-final on a flooded pitch in Frankfurt.

Indeed the Poles, in 16 meetings stretching back 85 years, have never prevailed with former coach Antoni Piechniczek admitting, "I don't believe that Poles can win against the Germans," before predicting a 4-0 defeat. If that happened it would add to the sense of shame felt after the Ecuador game which has culminated in Michal Listkiewicz, the President of the Polish Football Association, being forced to deny a player mutiny. The coach, a member of the Polish team that reached the last four in 1982, will certainly have to show greater boldness if he is to salvage the campaign. And probably his job.

The Germans are bullish. Their record at the Westfalenstadion is formidable - 12 wins and one draw - while the victory over Costa Rica and the attacking impetus they showed has suddenly raised hopes. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann has spent much of the last few months battling to lift an air of gloom - now he has to dampen down expectations.

"You just have to put yourselves inside the heads of the Polish players," he cautioned yesterday. "They know they are really up against it now. There's been a lot of aggressive criticism, fuelled by the media, and these players are going to be very tense. They'll be desperate to get out there on the pitch and give it everything to stay in the tournament. It's going to be a hot evening."

Not that everything is smooth in his camp. Captain Michal Ballack will return and has commented that he was fit to play against Costa Rica also. Klinsmann didn't agree.

"I do not regret saying I was fit," Chelsea's newest midfielder said. "Why should I lie? If people asked how I felt, why shouldn't I give an honest answer?"

There is added piquancy for the Poles in that had Ballack been born a few miles east of the German border village of Gorlitz he would be theirs. Other German players have even closer ties. Both strikers, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, were born in Poland.

Klose, who was almost nine when his family moved to Germany, said yesterday that his sporting ability helped him settle. "I gained recognition and from that I made real friends," he said.

Klose, who scored twice last Friday, added: "My aunt and my uncle still live in Poland and I go there regularly. But I'll just be singing the German national anthem. I don't even know the other one."