June 12, 2012
Poles keep hopes alive with draw
By Morris Dalla Costa, QMI Agency
WARSAW, POLAND - It was a good ending to a bad day in Warsaw.
And when it was over, Poland's tournament and team still had a chance to advance at Euro 2012.
Poland and Russia played to a 1-1 draw Tuesday, leaving Group A open for whichever team wants to win it.
Russia leads the group with four points, followed by the Czech Republic with three, Poland with two and Greece with one.
Now, for the next three days, the country will be focused on Saturday group finale between Poland and the Czech Republic. Poland needs a win to advance.
With the Russians heavily favoured, this was a survival day for Poland. It was a day that left the country wiped out emotionally. The build-up to the game was remarkably intense, considering it was only a group game.
Warsaw has been on a knife's edge for days.
With the political -- and confrontational -- history of these two nations as a backdrop, the clashes and fights before the game and the importance of the match in the standings, the atmosphere was that of a playoff game.
There is a great deal to be said for being the host nation of a European championship. It offers the home team succor in knowing they are in front of their fans, they have no travel issues and, for the most part, referees often cast a favourable eye on them.
But with the positives come negatives.
The home team is dissected and resected before and after the tournament. The hosts carry not only the hope of their own country, but the hope of tournament organizers as well.
A home team that stays in a tournament means more money and greater interest in the event.
Praise comes quickly and often when the team is successful. But criticism can be just as sharp and often cuts deeper.
Being able to play well in a tournament at home is as much about controlling your mind as it is controlling the ball.
The Poles are under incalculable pressure. As a nation, Poland needs to show it is capable of putting on a good, clean, attractive tournament. And it has to worry about doing well on the pitch.
Poland also needed to recover from the huge disappointment of tying Greece in its opener.
It listened to three days of criticism about its effort. It had to deal with the possibility of Warsaw became another battle ground between Russian and Polish fans.
The burden of all that showed in the first half.
It looked as if the Poles were nothing more than labourers struggling under the burden of a hoddle full of bricks. But every once in a while the gods of sport take pity on the overburdened and reward those who continue to work.
Those gods rewarded the Poles with a magnificent strike by Jakup Blaszczykowski.
The Polish midfielder has been steadfast throughout the two difficult games. This time his team required a stroke of magic.
A win was needed. A tie meant nothing in the standings. But against Russia, for a multitude of reasons, Poland needed something.
Russia silenced the huge throng in the stadium in the 37th minute.
On a free kick, Andrey Arshavin sent the ball into the middle of the penalty area. The emerging star of the tournament, Alan Dzagoev, flicked the ball with his head to beat Polish netminder Przemyslaw Tyton in the bottom corner. It was Dzagoev's third goal of the tournament.
It appeared that single goal would be enough, with Poland seemingly out of gas and ideas.
Then Blaszczykowski took things into his own hands. From near the top of the Russian penalty area, he cut inside with the ball, took a few steps and blasted the ball into the Russian net.
It was a glorious strike, a jolt of adrenaline, a defibrillation of the heart.
To the joy of a country, Poland was revived.