UEFA Euro 2012: Reinvigorated Poland dream of Euro advance

Poland's 1-1 draw with Russia in their crunch Euro 2012 fixture felt like a win, given how great a boost it has dealt to the tournament co-hosts' confidence as they eye an historic quarter-finals berth.

Updated: June 14, 2012 00:55 IST
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Warsaw: Poland's 1-1 draw with Russia in their crunch Euro 2012 fixture felt like a win, given how great a boost it has dealt to the tournament co-hosts' confidence as they eye an historic quarter-finals berth.

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Despite a second successive 1-1 draw their performance against the highly-rated Russians was vastly different than against the limited if spirited Greeks.

This time round the Poles were the ones who fought back from going a goal down to force the draw - however a repeat of that result will not suffice in their final game against the Czechs as they have to win to progress.

Doing it against old rivals Russia, with whom sporting encounters feed into age-old political antipathy, gave the game an extra edge -- all the more so because the Russians hammered the Czech Republic last Friday.

"We played well and they played well. Favourites or not favourites, that doesn't mean anything. We'll see what happens next," said defender Damien Perquis of French club Sochaux.

Dariusz Dudka, who made the starting line-up against Russia after having been left out for the Greece match, underlined the psychological impact of the result.

"It's very important, because for us it's like the final is against the Czech Republic," said Dudka, who suffered the low of being relegated from France's Ligue 1 last season with Auxerre.

"We drew with a very good team who beat the Czech Republic 4-1, so for us in our heads that's important ahead of Saturday's game."

Poland face the Czechs that day in the southwestern city of Wroclaw, while Russia wrap up against Greece in Warsaw.

Poland can dare to dream because with the Czech Republic having beaten Greece 2-1 earlier on Tuesday, Russia top Group A on four points while the Czechs are second on three, Poland third on two and Greece fourth on one.

"We're still in the race, we've got two points, our destiny at our feet. If we beat the Czechs we'll go through, so there's no question we have to win. We want to elbow our way to the quarter-finals," said Bordeaux midfielder Ludovic Obraniak.

Fans who pine for once-mighty Poland's golden age of the 1970s and early 1980s have grown used to having their hopes raised and dashed.

Solid qualifying runs for the 2002 and 2006 World Cup turned into lacklustre finals performances, just like Poland's debut Euro in 2008.

Poland as co-hosts with Ukraine qualified by right for the 16-nation tournament and the organisers will be hoping it is they that progress so as to keep local interest alive.

While home fans are pumped up, there is a dose of realism, echoing that of Poland manager Franciszek Smuda, who took the helm in October 2009 and has always insisted that reaching the last eight is his benchmark.

"I remember the pressure back in 2002, when the team finally made it to a tournament for the first time since 1986. And we had a cold shower, going out in the group stage," said 36-year-old fan Radek Pezacki.

"This time it's different. Yes there's pressure, but at the end of the day we know that simply getting beyond the group stage would be good."

Poland have been roared on by their home crowd at both Euro 2012 matches, and want to repay that support.

"You want to make the fans proud. They're fantastic. We want to give them something back," said first choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny sidelined for the Russia match after being sent off in the game against Greece.

"We're still in the hunt. The last game against the Czech Republic, if we win it we're through to the quarter finals, it's as simple as that. We're confident," said the Arsenal star.

"If we get through to the quarter-finals we will have done the minimum that we said before the tournament, that's our goal. If we get there, obviously we want to do our best to keep going."

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