Hosts Poland face a must-win match against the Czech Republic after a fascinating struggle with rivals Russia.
Tactically it was a classic battle between a creative, possession based side and a reactive team based on the counter; and the contrast in styles dictated the flow of the match, with each side enjoying spells of dominance.
Poland came flying out of the starting blocks with good reason. Counter-attacking sides need something to protect first of all, therefore snatching the lead when energy levels are highest topped the agenda. Such was Poland’s intensity, that Russia – on paper the stronger side – looked there for the taking.
Sebastian Boenisch had an early headed opportunity, Robert Lewandowski was seriously threatening and Eugen Polanski had a goal chopped off in the opening flurry, and Russia were reciprocating - less effectively perhaps but making for an enthralling, end-to-end opening.
Unfortunately for Poland, they could neither find that all-important opener nor maintain that exhausting level of intensity and in an effort to recuperate made a planned retreat into a classic deep, counter-attacking 4-5-1.
Not renowned for their own work-rate, Russia were far more comfortable against docile prey, with Andrei Arshavin and Alan Dzagoev able to start picking at the deep-set Poles. By far the preferred move was to play Aleksandr Kerzhakov diagonally between the Polish centre-back and full-back, from centre to wide, having the effect of creating a pocket of space in the centre for others to attack.
Besides the need for the first goal, the second most important part of Poland’s plan was to keep a clean sheet through disciplined defending. How exasperating then for coach Franciszek Smuda, that Russia took the lead through what initially looked to be an innocuous set-piece? The twist was in Arshavin effectively (if, unintentionally) dummying his delivery. The defence reacted accordingly to the false-start, dropping back, tracking the runners – but the line remained a fatal 5 yards too deep. The line’s purpose was eviscerated, confusion reigned and Dzagoev headed in with surprising space.
Falling behind is the worst-case scenario for a counter-attacking side because, well, they are forced to take the initiative and take risks instead of passively reacting. With the gameplan dashed, Poland lay on the ropes and the half-time whistle couldn’t come soon enough.
Smuda made use of the recovered energy levels by again flying out the traps and the opposition were shocked by the return to a vigorous approach. Just when hope was waning, just when Russia seemed to have weathered the storm, Jakub Błaszczykowsk provided a spectacular equaliser. The captain until that point had been muted, pegged back by Russia’s spacial dominance, and the moment of genius reignited his country’s fading hope.
The goal confused the motivation of both sides: they’d each given their best and were tiring fast. Russia were content, but going for the kill was tempting. Poland may have been content to be left with an all-or-nothing encounter against the Czechs – assuming either group of players were aware of the table.
Either way, it was Poland who dictated the pace of the remaining time, pushing runners forward from midfield in support of the fantastic Lewandowski, and it’s difficult to envisage that the same tactic could be viable with a lesser striker.
Kerzhakov made a case for being such an inferior example, not only adding to his raft of missed attempts on goal, but being replaced by Roman Pavlyuchenko while the game swung from end to end. Poland’s vehement search for the winner was leaving conspicuous gaps at the back, and with both sides squandering opportunities to take victory, the struggle ended 1-1.
The Poles may have been proud of the performance, but the Russian’s left happier. Not just for leading the group, but because they survived a gutsy battering from an impressive home side.
In this section
- Euro 2012 Wrap: Horror film ghost girls, Tetris and Denmark's Roy Race
- Greece 1-0 Russia: Stubborn Greece send Russia home with Warsaw victory
- STV Sports Daily at the Euros: Spain supreme, Pirlo's perfect set piece
- Hosts and Russia share the spoils during a raw encounter in Warsaw
- UEFA hit Russia with points deduction threat for fans' behaviour
- STV Sports Daily at the Euros: Kuba's screamer, Czechs cash in
- Euro 2012 Talk: Dzagoev points bonanza, Kuba's stunner, Kiev quiet
- Poland 1-1 Russia: Dzagoev strikes again but Kuba keeps Poles in position
- STV Sports Daily at the Euros: Organised England, Sheva the hero
- UEFA open disciplinary proceedings against Russia for fan trouble