Poland offered a glint of hope
that they can be more than just Euro 2012 also-rans on Tuesday
but their day of reckoning is not far away.
A deserved 1-1 draw with a Russian side who failed to
reproduce the brilliance of their opening win kept the co-hosts
in contention for a knockout stage place, but they will need to
achieve what no other Polish side has done before to stay in the
competition - win a European Championship game.
The Poland of four years ago failed to win a match at Euro
2008, their debut in the continental showpiece, and bowed out
tamely with one point and one goal from three games.
The 2012 version have already surpassed that, with two
points and two goals after their opening 1-1 draw with Greece.
Lowest ranked of the 16 teams, Poland are slowly finding
their tournament feet but it may come too late. Franciszek
Smuda's side must now beat the Czech Republic in their final
Group A game on Saturday or make an early exit.
The guile, guts and determination on show against Russia,
added with the flash of brilliance that was Jakub
Blaszczykowski's second-half equaliser, suggests they can.
Poland, who last made the latter stages of a major
tournament in 1986, still have hope. After playing only
friendlies since October 2009, the competitive edge has emerged
again, but a ruthless streak has not.
"We will never play like Brazil. It will take a while," said
"Today's match shows that we are capable of beating the
Czechs. This team sees its chances of advancing to the
quarter-finals and we will try to make it happen."
The Poles could not quite follow the lead of co-hosts
Ukraine the previous night and lift a nation desperate to make
their mark on the international stage but it was not for want of
Energised by a wall of sound reverberating around the
National Stadium, Poland took the game to Dick Advocaat's Russia
and had enough strength at the back to stand up to the swift
counter-attacks that had served the group favourites so well
against the Czechs.
Poland's shortcomings, however, were evident again. Robert
Lewandowski is the fulcrum of their attack but he was too often
left isolated and lacks a strike partner to continually trouble
the best European defences.
Lewandowski's goals helped Borussia Dortmund retain the
Bundesliga title in Germany but it was his club team-mate
Blaszczykowski who rescued the Poles with a contender for goal
of the tournament.
Trailing to Alan Dzagoev's 37th-minute goal following
Andrei Arshavin's precision free-kick, Blaszczykowski scored a
deserved equaliser when the pacy winger cut in from the right
and blasted a vicious shot past Vyacheslav Malafeev.
Smuda scented blood, sending on attacking midfielder Adrian
Mierzejewski for the more defensive orientated Dariusz Dudka but
the intelligent probings of Eugen Polanski failed to prize
Russia open again.
Ludovic Obraniak summed up the Poles' frustration when he
was substituted in stoppage time, just as he was getting set to
deliver a set piece. Obraniak trudged off, then let fly at a
Smuda said the pressure had got to his side against Greece.
The Poles will need cooler heads when they face the Czechs.
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