With a place in the quarterfinals at stake, Poland is ready to make history against the Czech Republic.
The Euro 2012 co-hosts will be seeking their first victory of the tournament -- and first quarterfinal berth ever at the European Championships -- on Saturday at the Municipal Stadium following a pair of 1-1 draws against Greece and Russia in Group A. “It’s going to be a mini final for us,” Poland captain Jakub Blaszczykowski said. “It’ll be the biggest match in the recent past for all of us.” The Czechs are one point ahead of Poland after beating Greece 2-1 to revive their chances of advancing following an opening 4-1 loss to Russia. A win for either team would put them through. The Czechs, however, could be missing captain Tomas Rosicky because of an Achilles tendon injury. The hooliganism that took place around Poland’s emotionally charged match against Russia on Tuesday is not expected to be repeated on Saturday. Unlike the Poland-Russia relations that are tense due to a bitter and bloody history, the Poles have an easier relationship with their southern Slavonic neighbors and have treated them accordingly.
The mayor of Wroclaw, where the Czechs are based and play all three group matches, hosted a lunch for the team at City Hall and thousands of Polish fans attended open training sessions, cheering the Czech players and applauding every goal in practice matches. To Czech team’s pleasant surprise, the local public showed strong support even in the rain and even after the demoralizing loss to Russia. That was in stark contrast to Czech fans, who booed coach Michal Bilek and striker Milan Baros, blaming them for the poor performance. “So far, we’ve been feeling here like at home,” said Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech, who has recovered from a shoulder injury and will face Poland.
To prove the friendly atmosphere before the match, Cech gave some advice to the Poles on how to solve the dilemma of whether to start with substitute goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton, who saved a penalty against Greece, or Wojciech Szczesny, who was sent off in the match and banned for the game against Russia.
“If I were a coach, I would put Lewandowski in the goal,” Cech said with a smile. Robert Lewandowski has been impressive up front playing as Poland’s sole striker, and scored with a powerful header against Greece last week in Warsaw.