POLISH taxi drivers are full of stories of hooligans mobilising to greet the thousands of Russians who are set to travel to the capital city of a country they once controlled.
Some, it is said, will travel without tickets with the sole purpose of causing trouble, while there is bitterness among sections of Poland’s supporters following the violence that left four stewards in hospital after Russia’s first group game, the 4-1 win over the Czech Republic.
There were also clashes and arrests in Wroclaw after the game, while flags declaring Poland part of the Russian Empire were unveiled inside the Wroclaw Stadium. It is difficult to remember there is a football game taking place, not a war.
Tabloid newspapers in Poland have not helped, describing Tuesday night’s game at the National Stadium in Warsaw as the second ‘Miracle of Vistula’, a reference to the battle in 1920 where the Poles, against the odds, defeated a Bolshevik Army shortly after the Russian Revolution.
The tension is palpable, inflamed further by plans from Russian supporters to march to the stadium to celebrate National Russia Day. More than 6,000 police officers will be on duty. The Army will provide eyes in the sky with helicopter gunships.
Poland’s manager Franciszek Smuda, dressed up as a Poland Army General by one paper, refused to discuss anything that “talked about politics and history between Russia and Poland, just football” in a fractious pre-match press conference.
“Preparations for Tuesday’s game constitute the biggest challenge for law and order forces in the capital. We will be keeping a constant eye on any possible threats,” said Interior Minister Jacek Cichocki.
The head of the Polish Football Association, Grzegorz Lato, admitted police and special forces had met to discuss contingency plans if trouble does break out before, during or after the game. “I’m convinced that the police and the security forces will be able to handle things for tomorrow’s match,” he said.
There has also been criticism of Uefa by Warsaw Police for failing to label this match as a high risk fixture before the tournament began.
A win for Russia would guarantee them a place in the quarter-final. Poland, who drew their opening game against Greece, cannot afford a defeat.
Probable team details
Poland (4-5-1): Tyton, Piszcczek, Wasilwski, Perquis, Boenisch, B“aszczykowski, Murawski, Dudka, Rybus, Polanski, Lewandowski.
Russia (4-3-3): Malafeev; Anyukov, Ignashevich, A Berezutski, Zhirkov; Shirokov, Denisov, Zyryanov; Kerzhakov, Dazgoev, Arshavin.