Ciaran Bonass tells us how events unfolded in the National Sadium, Warsaw, then Poland and Russia played out a 1-1 draw. Read about all the match highlights here.
The match fell on Russia day, and although the 1-1 draw keeps them on top of Group A, it was the home fans in Warsaw who found the biggest cause for cheer by the end of events which keeps Poland’s fate in their own hands ahead of their winner takes all showdown against the Czech Republic on Saturday.
Unfortunate as it was to be played against the backdrop of the largest occurrences of fan violence witnessed at a major tournament for a number of years after more than one hundred arrests were made on the city’s streets, there was no denying that both sets of players did all they could on the pitch to deflect attention away from the terrible scenes off it prior to kick-off.
The second half was a particularly rousing affair for the partisan home crowd, as after Poland had fallen behind to Alan Dzagoev’s header they came out with all guns blazing in the second half in a move which could easily have played right in to Russian hands but the Poles courage and conviction were justly rewarded via a brilliant equaliser from captain Jakub Blaszczykowski just before the hour, and looked the more likely winners for the remainder of the game. Their date with destiny and the Czechs will hold no fears for them now after passing the test put up to them by the group favourites with flying colours.
The hype surrounding perennial Russian dark horses had gone into overdrive following a flowing but facile 4-1 victory over the Czechs in the first round of fixtures which saw Dick Advocaat’s side’s odds slashed to 10/1 for them to lift the trophy – ahead of such powerhouses as Italy and Holland – but this result and their patchy performance in it should demand they are brought under a more critical light now. Poland themselves had displayed a worrying lack of belief in the second half of their own first fixture, when they surrendered a goal lead with an extra man to Greece and survived a missed penalty and disallowed goal en route to another 1-1 draw, but they seemed determined to make amends here against a familiar foe.
Franciszek Smuda’s side could consider themselves unlucky to get to half-time in arrears as they had the better chances of the first 45 minutes with Sebastian Boenisch denied as he headed straight at Russian goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev when anywhere else would have given Poland an early lead. Robert Lewandowski came close with a crisply struck volley soon after then played in the quite brilliantly named Eugen Polanski to finish before his celebrations were cut short by an offside flag. Russia, hardly overawed, but clearly up against it, made their hosts pay dearly when Andrei Arshavin’s free from 30 yards out on the left was poorly defended and Dzagoev nipped in to nod home his third of the tournament to date and reclaim his place at the top of the goalscorers charts.
Arshavin played a prominent role in the Polish goal too though, his poor pass as three team-mates broke into the box sniffing a second goal that would have been likely to make Russia the first qualifiers for the knockout phase was fully exploited by a quick counter up the right finding Blaszczykowski and when he cut in to thunder a shot into the top corner from outside the box the stadium erupted and the Russians looked anything but the irresistible force some had suggested. They remain likely qualifiers, perhaps alongside their near neighbours, but the fluidity of Advocaat’s charges in possession is constantly undermined by defensive fragility and a powder puff frontline disguised by Dzagoev’s purple patch, Europe’s big guns will sleep a little easier following Russia’s exposure to the harsh Polish elements.