Poland v Russia: gripping football, sickening violence
An absorbing encounter between the Euro 2012 rivals was marred by riots between their fans in Warsaw
A STUNNING strike from Jakub Blaszczykowski secured a share of the points for Poland against Russia in an absorbing Group A encounter last night, but the match was overshadowed by violent clashes beforehand between football hooligans.
The trouble started as an estimated 5,000 Russian fans marched through Warsaw in celebration of their national day, June 12, which marks the declaration of state sovereignty from the old Soviet Union.
Many Poles saw the march as provocative, given the fraught history between the two nations, and there were chants of, "Hit the red trash with a hammer and a sickle", as the Russians moved through the city centre.
One group of Poles carried a banner proclaiming: "Polish President murdered in Russia," a reference to the plane crash two years ago that killed president Lech Kaczynski and several high-ranking Polish military figures.
An inquiry later blamed the crash on thick fog, although that hasn’t stopped the conspiracy theorists believing Russia was to blame.
As fighting broke out (see video below), riot police were quickly on the scene and amid vicious scuffles, over 120 people were arrested. Eventually police restored order using tear gas, water cannon and plastic bullets, but a dozen people were injured. In one of the worst incidents a gang of 50 Polish hooligans ambushed a group of Russians in a Warsaw café.
The match itself passed off peacefully, although the atmosphere in the National Stadium was electric as Poland strove to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the quarter-final. Having drawn their opening game with Greece, the co-hosts knew defeat to Russia (who beat the Czech Republic 4-1 in their first game) would end their ambitions.
In an entertaining encounter, Russia took the lead on 37 minutes when Alan Dzagoev glanced in Andrey Arshavin's inswinging free-kick. Poland, who’d had a goal disallowed for offside early in the first half, had to wait until 12 minutes after the break for the equaliser.
Collecting the ball on the right flank, captain Blaszczykowski cut inside and unleashed a stunning strike from 25 yards that flew into the top corner of the Russian net.
“It is getting better and better,” said Poland coach Franciszek Smuda later. “Today's match proved that we are good enough to win against the Czech Republic. Our team can see that we have a chance of reaching the knockout stage and we will do everything we can to use that chance.”
With the Czechs having beaten Greece 2-1 earlier in the day, Poland know that they must win their final match on Saturday to progress to the last eight. A draw for Russia against Greece on the same day could be enough to see them through to the quarters, but a win will ensure they finish as group winners.