WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s 1-1 draw with Russia on Tuesday will soon become a mere Euro 2012 footnote but for everyone crammed into to national stadium and millions more watching on TV it was an occasion that will live long in the memory.
Indelibly seared into the collective Polish memory will be the stunning left-footed drive by captain Jakub Blaszczykowski that cancelled out Alan Dzagoyev’s 37th-minute header which had looked set to send the Russians through with two wins out of two in Group A.
Captain “Kuba” ensured that what always looked the tightest of groups will go to the final round of fixtures when, after a length-of-the field counter-attack, he cut in from the right and unleashed a spectacular shot into the top corner that would have lifted the stadium roof, had it not been left open this time.
The goal was worthy of the deafening roar that greeted it and raised Polish spirits after the gloom that had settled on the capital hours earlier following clashes between rival fans and police that left at least 10 people injured and led to around 100 arrests.
The politically-charged fixture had always been marked as the most likely to produce trouble and it duly arrived as local fans took exception to thousands of Russian fans joining a set-piece march towards the stadium on their Independence Day.
Thankfully there was no hint of trouble inside the stadium, where supporters sat side by side segregated by no more than a row of empty seats. Instead it was handshakes all round after a breathless match ended with honours even.
Russia remain in the driving seat in the group with four points, going into their final match against Greece. The Czech Republic, who beat Greece 2-1 earlier on Tuesday have three points, Poland two and the Greeks one. A point for Russia would be enough to guarantee their place in the quarter-finals but Poland have to beat the Czechs to advance.
“With the sort of support we had here today from the fans, we are capable of achieving a lot,” Blaszczykowski said. “I believe that we can secure a historic advance to the quarter finals against the Czechs in Wroclaw.”
Having never won a European Championship match it still represents a tough task but the Poles showed enough spirit and attacking intent to ensure they will not go out of their own tournament without a fight.
Just as they did in their opening 1-1 draw with Greece Poland tore into the game from the start and Sebastian Boenisch forced an early point-blank save from Russian keeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev.
Russia struggled to find the rhythm they showed in hammering the Czechs 4-1 but still had enough class to wrest control and took the lead when Dzagoyev reached captain Andrei Arshavin’s inswinging free kick to glance in his third goal of the tournament.
But it was Arshavin’s misplaced pass that led to the equaliser as, with three team mates to choose from and a second goal looking certain, he dragged the ball behind them all. Poland broke and Blaszczykowski’s first touch made space for his spectacular, net-bursting second.
It was a goal to grace the magnificent stadium and the Poles fed hungrily on the energy it produced from the vast majority of the 55,920 crowd.
They got a little greedy though as everyone seemed to want to get in on the act and a series of promising attacks were wasted by wildy-struck long shots.
If was exhilarating stuff, though, and Russia offered little in return, eventually happy to leave with a draw that still leaves them well placed to top the group.
Coach Dick Advocaat maintained his side were not only the best on the night but the best in the tournament.
”Our first game was 4-1 and then our second game was like an away game, and there was a beautiful equaliser,“ he said. ”We had more possession and playing away it was very hard. But I’d like to compliment both teams for how they played.
“At 1-0 I did think we would get more space, but that didn’t happen. We lost the ball too fast then they had the counter-attack and we left too many spaces.”
The last word went to Blaszczykowski, however.
“We cannot wait for the match with the Czechs,” he said after his stunning strike earned him the man of the match award.
“We are tired, but we have three days to recover and will put everything we have into that game.”
Editing by Ed Osmond