Some matches have a backdrop that is more than just about football, and with more than a dozen military conflicts between the two nations over the last millennia, feelings run high. As well as a presence of around 6000 Polish police officers, an estimated 5000 Russian fans marched through Warsaw. This march wasn’t one proclaiming military might, but political freedom, as June 12 is Russia Day, a national holiday to commemorate the day the Russian parliament declared sovereignty from the former Soviet Union.
With the historical context, and the warnings of hooliganism being rife in Poland, there was always a likelihood of conflict off the pitch, and while there have been skirmishes between rival fans, the feeling coming out of Poland at the time of writing is that this has been blown up by the media to satisfy their moral panic coming into the tournament.
The Russian national anthem is accompanied by a huge banner proclaiming “THIS IS RUSSIA”. It is also accompanied by a lot of boos, so much so that the local TV producers seemingly cut the microphones to all but the ladies singing the anthem, and the area in front of the Russian fans. When the music stops, the booing is all that is left, and it is a cacophony, ringing round this packed Warsaw stadium. The Polish national anthem is sung with more gust than any anthem is likely to be sung during this tournament.
It takes just six minute before we get our first chance. Ludiovic Obraniak delivers a vicious free kick from the right hand side, Sebastien Boenisch wns the header, and brings an instinctive save out of Vyacheslav Malafeev. Boenisch has another headed chance from the resultant corner, but Malafeev’s save is very much for the cameras. Lewandowski tries a volley from 20 yards out that just clears the bar, and all of the early chances are made by the Polish, but Russia have the first shout for a penalty, as Aleksandr Kerzhakov is challenged from behind but it’s a fantastic challenge by Damien Perquis. On 18 minutes, the ball is in the Russian net. A flowing move between Lukasz Piszczek, Boenisch, Eugen Polanski and Lewandowski ends with Polanski roaming free of the defence and calmly slotting the ball home, but the assistant referee correctly flags for offside. Rafal Murawski provides a low cross that just evades Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lewandowski, before Aleksandr Anyukov clears. Andrei Arshavin provides the first real Russian chance after 25 minutes, when he runs at the Polish defence and provides a cross that Kerzhakov heads wide. The roles are reversed three minutes later as Kerzhakov drills a low cross that Arshavin can’t quite reach. These chances give Russia the ascendancy, and they control the game for the next ten minutes, without creating anything meaningful, leaving Poland to the occasional counter-attack, but on 37 minutes the deadlock is broken. Marcin Wasilewski clumsily fouls Yuri Zhirkov on the left hand side. Arshavin floats in a beautiful free kick, and Alan Dzagoev evades his marker Piszczek and arrives late into the penalty area, just misses the header, but it catches his and Tyton is stranded. The delivery is pinpoint in its accuracy, the finish is subtle, andPolandare punished for their profligacy in front of goal. Poland 0 Russia 1.
Polandtry and get straight back into the game, as Blaszczykowski tests Malafeev with a hopeful drive from outside the area. The first half ends in controversy, as Dzagoev is barged from behind in the area by Boenisch, but the officials bizarrely award a Polish freekick. Lewandowski almost creates a one-on-one chance for Polandin the first minute of the second half, but he can’t get the ball under control and Malafeev recovers. A second early chance sees Lewandowski alone, unmarked in penalty area, but Malafeev bravely throws himself in front of the ball. Zhirkov almost puts Kerzhakov through for Russia’s first half-chance of the second period, and while it’s not quite end to end football, it’s entertaining. On 57 minutes, Poland equalize. Arshavin avoids a trip from Dariusz Dudka, and finds himself on the edge of the Polish penalty area with the attack outnumbering the defence four to three. He tries to pick out Dzagoev, but the pass is poor, and Poland break via Obraniak. Obraniak spots the run of Blaszczykowski, cutting in from the right touchline, and Obraniak plays an inch perfect ball, which Blaszczykowski runs onto, beating Zhirkov for pace, and fires a thunderous shot into the top left hand corner of the net. Peter Drury channels his inner Partridge claiming it’s a goal “for President and peasant”, but even ITV cannot spoil what is the best goal of the tournament so far. Poland 1 Russia 1.
The goal strangely brings the game down a notch for a ten minute spell, with the Poles more intent on not conceding straight away, instead and looking to catch the Russians on the break, and the Russians struggling to break down the most resolute defense they’ve encountered so far, and it all gets a bit scrappy. Lewandowski gets booked for a late challenge on Igor Denisov, who gets cautioned for his reaction. Ten minutes after the goal it starts to pick up again. Dzagoev plays a neat one-two with Kerzhakov, but the resulting shot is weak, and Tyton easily gathers. Obraniak creates another chance for Polanski who drills his shot hard at the keeper. The Poles move to 4-4-1-1 formation as they now look to get the win. Blaszczykowski, now playing on the right, fizzes in another long distance effort, but it goes wide. Boenisch plays the ball from behind Dzagoev, between the Russians legs, but the referee Wolfgang Stark doesn’t award the foul, instead booking Dzagoev for his protests. Blaszczykowski gets brought down on by Sergei Ignashevich on the edge of the Polish area, but the referee plays the advantage as the ball rolls to Lewandowski, who plays in Obraniak, who fires straight at Malafeev. The last ten minutes of the game fall into a pattern –Russiahave most of the possession, and get into a lot of attacking and dangerous positions, but never look like creating a great final ball, especially as Kerzhakov and Dzagoev have already been replaced by Pavlyuchenko and Izmailov. Poland on the other hand are only counter-attacking, but look capable of scoring every time they go forward. The best example of this being when Pawl Brozak almost gets on the end of Adrian Mierzejewski‘s injury time free kick, seconds after Mierzejewski comes on for Obraniak, unhappy that he is being substituted before he can take the kick.
Despite the fears before the game, the match has been an excellent advertisement for the tournament, and has been the most entertaining game so far. Alan Dzgoev becomes the top scorer, while Blaszczykowski’s screamer will be replayed many times between now and July 1st. There were great performances all over the two teams, with Boenisch, Obraniak and Blaszczykowski the standouts for the hosts, and Malafeev and Zhirkov being the highlights for the visitors.
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