|Poland's goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton (C) embraces Robert Lewandowski at the end of their Group A Euro 2012 soccer match against Russia at the National stadium in Warsaw June 12, 2012. (REUTERS)
POZNAN - You'd think Poland's national soccer team was preparing for the Euro Cup final.
Well, Saturday's group game against the Czech Republic isn't really the final. But the Poles are treating it as such.
Poland will have 90 minutes to save their tournament, not only for their country but for tournament organizers as well.
The winner Saturday goes through to the knockout phase and the loser heads home. The Czechs would also benefit from a tie, since they already have three points, while the Poles (two points) need to win.
Most home teams in a tournament of this nature miraculously find themselves in weaker groups. Organizers want to keep home teams involved as long as possible. The reasons are obvious -- more interest, better ticket sales and a livelier atmosphere.
Any home team that doesn't advance to at least the second round must consider the tournament a washout.
So far it's been a bit of a mixed bag for Poland. The Poles tied the Russians with a far better effort than in their first game against Greece.
"I'm very happy that we played so well against Russia," said Polish forward Ludovic Obrianak. "It was much better than the first game against Greece, and if we can play like that again, I think we'll have a good chance against the Czech Republic. The final group game is now a must-win game, but we are ready for this challenge.
"It's like a final, but it's one we can win. We expect a great atmosphere in Wroclaw and hopefully we can get the result that everyone in Poland wants."
The Polish players carry a great weight on their shoulders.
This was a showcase event for their country. A good showing on and off the field was a necessity. Off the field, with all the issues that have brought racism and hooliganism into the spotlight, the showing has been spotty at best.
If the Poles don't advance to the second round, the on-the-field showing will be a disaster.
Poland understands the importance of the game. Some are calling it their final.
But, fact of the matter is, the Poles need to score. They've started well in both games but couldn't hold the pace for 90 minutes. With the way today's soccer is played, it is difficult to protect a one-goal lead.
"We know how good the Czechs are and we will give them all our respect," said Polish striker Robert Lewandowski. "I think we showed against Russia we can play for the whole 90 minutes. Now let's hope we can get the goals to qualify. I'm confident that we can."
In the other Group A encounter, Greece plays Russia. A win gives Russia first place in the group and sends the Greeks home.