Poland and Russia are doing their best to keep their minds on soccer ahead of a Euro 2012 Group A game today that off the pitch looks like one of the tournament’s potential flash points.
Authorities in Warsaw have been working hard behind the scenes to ease concerns over a planned march by Russian fans through the city to the national stadium.
Polish Minister of Sport Joanna Mucha has played down outrage at the plan from some in Warsaw for whom it is too reminiscent of Russia’s dominance of Poland during the communist era.
“I do not think there will be any problems with this march or with this day. I am sure everything will go all right,” Mucha said.
“It is absolutely normal for the fans supporting the teams just to have a march during the tournament, so this is an absolutely normal situation,” she said.
Russian fans were also at the center of a handful of incidents in the southern city of Wroclaw around Friday’s game against the Czech Republic and are expected to be in Warsaw in force today.
Their team produced the performance of the tournament to crush the Czech Republic 4-1 in an exuberant display of swift movement and flawless finishing on Friday.
That reinforced their status as firm favorites for Group A, although Poland showed enough in a dominant first-half display against Greece to suggest they will not be pushovers.
“The Russians are favorites, but we’ve played with teams who are better than they are. There is no reason to be scared. We are at home,” Poland attacking midfielder Adrian Mierzejewski told reporters on Sunday.
“For us, as players, it doesn’t really matter who we play, but for the fans of course there is a bit of a clash, a bit more tension in this game,” he said.
Mierzejewski and Kamil Gronicki both sounded cautiously optimistic of their chances of playing, adding to speculation that at least one of them could start.
Franciszek Smuda, widely regarded as a conservative coach who tends to stick with the same lineup if he can, said he would not make more than one change to his outfield starting lineup. Goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton, who rescued Poland on Friday by saving a penalty with his first touch of the ball, will start in place of the suspended Wojciech Szczesny.
The Russian soccer federation and the national team on Sunday urged their fans in Poland to behave after some supporters threw fireworks and displayed illicit banners during the game against the Czech Republic.
UEFA is investigating those incidents and the circumstances around an attack by about 30 fans on stewards after the match.
Coach Dick Advocaat is expected to make no changes to a team being tipped to repeat or better their drive to the semi-finals four years ago. The two sides last played just before that in 2007, drawing 2-2 in a friendly in Moscow.
“We all know what a match against the Russians means,” Poland’s Grosicki said on Sunday. “It is one of those games — against Russia or Germany — where, speaking colloquially, you have to leave your guts on the pitch.”