While the rest of the world is seemingly fixated on the long-running political rivalry between Russia and Poland - culminating in violent clashes between the two sets of fans during the Russian supporters’ march to the stadium in Warsaw - Polish coach Franciszek Smuda is trying to block out the the hype and stay focused on the on-field affair.
“I had never considered this game to be a special one, other than the fact it is a great fixture, and it might be a great spectacle for the fans,” he told UEFA.com in the run-up to Tuesday’s match.
Its importance to the tournament co-host cannot be understated. A loss would leave Poland facing a must-win game against the Czech Republic in order to stand any chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals, a situation that even the presence of passionate home support would be unlikely to overcome.
In stark contrast, Russia’s situation couldn’t be any better. Its 4-1 thumping of the Czechs last Friday puts it in total control of Group A, and the knowledge that this is a team firing on al cylinders makes Tuesday’s game a much calmer affair than it might otherwise have been.
However, Dutch coach Dick Advocaat is not about to let his Russian players take their feet off the accelerator.
"Not once have I seen the players thinking this will be an easy game, as there are no easy games," he told UEFA.com. "Against Poland it will be a different game, a different opponent, and I think it will be a tougher match than the first one."
Russia’s player to watch: Alan Dzagoev
After setting the tournament alight with two goals in last Friday’s 4-1 win over the Czechs, the world will be watching to see what the 21-year-old midfielder can do for an encore. He was the the team’s leading scorer in qualifying - with four goals in eight games - and is rapidly developing into one of Russia’s most important cogs.
Poland’s player to watch: Robert Lewandowski
The Borussia Dortmund frontman answered Polish prayers in last Friday’s opener with the first goal of this year’s tournament, but unfortunately for the co-hosts they couldn’t hang on. The Czechs provided little to threaten the Russians at the back, but Lewandowski could provide a better barometer of their defensive prowess, which will be vital if they are to have legitimate designs on the European crown.
Did you know?
Russian forward Aleksandr Kerzhakov became the first player to have seven shots off target in a European champioship finals match during last Friday’s 4-1 win over the Czech Republic.
“Polish fans are probably the most aggressive in the world. These guys don't play fair at all. They resort to violence, but not in the way that Russians do -- with their fists -- but with rocks and bottles.”
Konstantin, a fan from Moscow, talks to Russia’s Kommersant newspaper on the rivalry between Polish and Russian supporters.
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