FMF State of Mind's Nayib Moran reports from Europe with an update on his experience in Poland covering the host nation's national team during Euro 2012.
The football fever was obvious – the cars with Polish flags hanging on the rear ends, kids, adolescents, and elders wearing Polish national team jerseys, and the newscasts talking every 10 minutes about Franciszek Smuda’s Poland. The fever was contagious, and the sight exclusive of Euro 2012.
As the days to the Euro inauguration approached, the excitement only increased. The sights on Tuesday June 5th quadrupled by Friday June 8th, the day of the Poland vs. Greece opener. All sights were on Warsaw, and the home team was closely followed. The training sessions held thousand of visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the Błaszczykowskis, Lewandowskis, Piszczeks, and Szczęsnys.
Poland became one; it formidably became that 12th player a lot of countries like to brag about. The influence, the joy, and the angst to come out victorious could be perceived from the bus driver to the journalist on TV who was constantly interrupted by the jubilant fan, with his face painted red and white.
“Polska, Biało Czerwoni” (Poland, white-red) became part of daily life. Hearing this chant in the streets, at bars, and in trams was normal. Not hearing it seemed unconceivable.
The first match served as a perfect prelude to what was to come during the rest of the group stage for Poland. The first half of Poland-Greece saw a Polish side ready to devour the opponent. Without hesitation they bombarded the Greek side, and within minutes Lewandowski headed in the first goal of the tournament. Poland was up by one goal, and the inauguration was turning into a dream.
At the start of the second half, Poland played with one extra man. Greece’s defender Sokratis was booked with a red card. Smuda’s team had everything on its side, yet it was Greece who gained momentum and tied the match. Minutes later Szczęsny commited a foul inside the box, winning a red card. The decision left Poland in Tytoń’s hands, who managed to make a super save.
The game concluded with a tie, a bittersweet one. Poland should have finished that night with a victory, but it was not to be. Many people were relieved that the game ended with a tie, as there was a sector of Polish people who saw defeat as a legitimate probability coming into the match.
Poland vs. Russia: Russia came to the match after routing Czech Republic, showing excellent football, and led by Andrei Arshavin and Alan Dzagoev. The rivalry on the streets intensified. Random skirmishes flashed the night before the match at Warsaw’s centrum, and on the day of the match, the skirmishes turned into fights outside the stadium before and after the game.
The Russians fans robbed the attention prior to initial whistle as a huge banner hanged from the stands, reading in English: “This is Russia”. The animosity jumped several bars in a matter of seconds. The Polish fans in all of the country suddenly wanted the victory.
On this occasion, Smuda did make some tactical changes to his team, something he did not try against the Greeks. Russia went up as Dzagoev scored his third goal in the tournament. As the game came to a close and the Russians saw the victory as imminent, Kuba (Błaszczykowski) hammered in a tying goal with his left foot, a score that can be considered one of the best goals of the tournament. His shout, his slide on the grass, and his head looking up to the Polish sky (in direction to his deceased mother) were all scenes showing on newscasts and in newspapers for the next hours.
The country was Mexico, the year was 1986, and the event was the World Cup. It was in this albiceleste World Cup that Poland made it out of the group stage, something they have been unable to repeat in recent Euros or World Cups. The last of the group stage matches against Czech Republic asked them to do one thing – win. Win beautifully or grotesquely, but win to give the millions of Poles the chance to live a once in a lifetime moment.
The notion of playing a Euro tournament in front of your home crowd – a passionate one, a colorful one – seemed like the only ingredient needed to overcome every obstacle. Smuda and the players noted this last game of Group A as the match of their lives.
And so it appeared as the rain poured down on Wroclaw stadium, and the moment came to sing the national anthem. There were chills as each one of the 11 starters sung their anthem with all of their heart, and more than one smiled, making it look like June 16, 2012 would be the day.
But Petr Jiraček, the Czech hero, did what Polish attackers were unable to do, defeat the goalkeeper. His goal not only silenced the crowd, it silenced the entire country. More than ever, and especially now, having Petr Čech on goal gives you a legitimate chance to do unthinkable things on the pitch. This was the case of Michal Bilek’s Czech Republic and was the case of Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea.
The bliss ended, but the two weeks have been a memorable ride. They leave behind a pocket full of postcards, the little girl with the polish flag on both cheeks chanting her first “Polska Biało Czerwoni” to the reporter’s microphone, Lewandowski’s first goal, the thousands of Polish flags dangling on the small streets and highways, and the union football provoked in the country for this period of time. Everything you read and heard in the streets somehow came back to football. The fans have been amazing; they deserve a strong national team.