Andrei Arshavin, in Sulejowek, on Sunday. (AP)
Warsaw: Poland and Russia are doing their best to keep their minds on football ahead of a Euro 2012 group A match on Tuesday that off the pitch looks like one of the tournament’s potential flashpoints.
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.
Minister of sport Joanna Mucha has played down outrage at the plan from some in Warsaw for whom that 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,” she 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.”
Russian fans were also at the centre of a handful of incidents in the southern city of Wroclaw during Friday’s game against the Czech Republic and are expected to be in Warsaw in force on Tuesday.
Their team produced the performance of the tournament to crush the Czechs 4-1 in an exuberant display of swift movement and flawless finishing on Friday.
That reinforced their status as firm favourites for group A, although the Poles showed enough in a dominant first-half display against Greece to suggest they will not be pushovers.
“The Russians are favourites but we’ve played with teams who are better than they are. There is no reason to be scared. We are at home,” Polish attacking midfielder Adrian Mierzejewski said 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.”
With the Poles gung-ho at home, Russia are playing down the chance of recording a similar sort of scoreline as they did against the Czechs.
“We can’t let ourselves get too carried away,” insisted forward Roman Pavlyuchenko, saying the Russians should put Friday’s victory behind them. “The task isn’t complete yet and we can’t afford to take it easy.”
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 line-up if he can, said he would not make more than one change to his outfield starting side.
Goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton, who rescued the Poles 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 Czechs.
UEFA is investigating those incidents and the circumstances around an attack by around 30 fans on stewards after the match.
Coach Dick Advocaat is expected to make no changes to a squad 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.”
Smuda and Advocaat will look to their young gun strikers — both rumoured to be being courted by English Premier League clubs — to make their mark again tomorrow.
Poland’s man is 23-year-old Robert Lewandowski, fresh from a stellar season with German double winners Borussia Dortmund, who sent home fans wild when he scored on Friday.
Russia know they can rely on CSKA Moscow’s 21-year-old Alan Dzagoev, their two-goal hero in Wroclaw, who had been a doubt for the tournament due to a broken toe but is set to play a starring role.
ON THE BALL
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has ditched his famous purple puffer jacket for an elegant suit and he wants his side to be smarter too despite matching holders Spain in their group C opener.
Italy will face a different test on Thursday against a confident Croatia side.
“I will look with great attention at Croatia and then we’ll decide,” he said.
“I will most of all look at who is the calmest, the fittest. I will understand what player is ready for this important game, which is decisive for the group.”
Out of tune
An England band was refused entry into the Donetsk stadium on Monday and no reason was given for the decision.
Despite assurances from the FA and Uefa, the band were not allowed to bring their instruments into the Donbass Arena.
The band, who have been a feature of England games for the past two decades and have been present for over 300 consecutive matches, have travelled 2,500 miles by road to get to Ukraine for the England vs France game
Could a runaway celebrity cow replace the late Paul the “oracle” octopus as the next animal with the ability to foretell the fortunes of Germany’s national team?
German football fans were delighted that Yvonne (the cow)’s decision to tip Portugal to beat Germany in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday turned out to be wrong.
Portugal have finally got to the root of their goal-scoring problems, saying it is simply the case that “the ball does not want to go in.”
“It’s the reality. We have created a lot of chances but the ball doesn’t want to go in,” midfielder Miguel Veloso said. “The most important thing is to look for a bit of luck.”
Nani agreed that the ball was not being co-operative. “The ball will not go in,” he said. “In the next few games, maybe our chances will go in as they have done at other times.”