Captain Jakub Blaszczykowski rescues Poland's honour against old rivals Russia
Poland 1 Russia 1
The National Stadium
Wednesday 13 June 2012
In the circumstances a draw was probably for the best. Both sides could retreat from the field with honour intact and a realistic chance of progress to the quarter-final and, hopefully, both sets of fans could go home without any sense of grievance to reignite the violence that had flared before kick-off. A win over the Czech Republic in their final game will take Poland through, while Russia must simply avoid defeat against Greece.
In the stadium, the atmosphere was superb, raucous but unthreatening and, particularly when Jakub Blaszczykowski lashed in a magnificent equaliser, deafening. Outside, though, the mood had been tense as 5000 Russians, marking their country's national day, marched through Warsaw to the stadium. As the Russians clashed with Polish hooligans, police intervened. Their spokesman Marius Sokolowski confirmed water-cannon, tear-gas and auditory grenades had been used to restore order, while 56 arrests were made with more planned.
This was never going to be just a game. Police kept rival fans apart on the bridge over the Vistula river beforehand and the Russian anthem was whistled enthusiastically as their fans unfurled an enormous banner bearing the legend "This is Russia". It depicted the warrior prince Dmitry Pozharsky, who led the Russian resistance to Polish rule 400 years ago. Russia were neat in possession, but never quite achieved the same rhythm they had in their opening 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic. "I thought Russia were the better team," said their coach Dick Advocaat, who singled out the holding midfielder Igor Denisov for praise. "We played really well to get a good result. They had support of 40,000 people so they had a big advantage."
It was Russia, though, who took a 37th-minute lead, an unmarked Alan Dzagoev glancing in Andrei Arshavin's free-kick to register his third goal in the tournament. The 21-year-old from Beslan has been hailed as the coming force of Russian football since scoring on his debut against Germany three years ago; he's arrived now. His technical ability, allied to a wiry physique that makes him deceptively good in the air, was never in doubt, but he is diffident by temperament and the fear was he lacked the hardness really to impose himself at the highest level.
"He has a lot of talent," said Advocaat. "He scored another goal. He did very well."
Poland had actually begun the better, Vyacheslav Malafeev making a number of fine saves before, as in their first match, they faded. "From 1-0 we controlled the game," said Advocaat. "It took a beautiful goal to equalise. Russia had more possession and created a little bit more."
That's a slightly generous reading. Poland rallied in the second half and were by far the more threatening, demonstrating just why the centre of defence, where the slow Aleksei Berezutsky partners the slower Sergei Ignashevich, is considered Russia's weakness. Malofeev had made two blocks from Robert Lewandowski when, on 57 minutes, Lukasz Piszczek played a pass inside Yuri Zhirkov. Blaszczykowski's first touch took him past Ignashevich and his second thrashed the ball into the top corner.
It was probably the goal of the tournament so far and, more importantly for Poland, it kept alive their hopes of reaching the last eight. "Today's match proved that we are able to win against the Czech Republic," said coach Franciszek Smuda. "Our team sees this chance of progressing and we'll try to take it."
Man of the match Blaszczykowski.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee W Stark (Ger).
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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