WARSAW — Russia will qualify for the quarter-finals of Uefa Euro 2012 if they beat Poland today regardless of the outcome of the other group A game between Greece and the Czech Republic.
Russia are flying high after trouncing the Czechs 4-1, while co-hosts Poland had to be content with a 1-1 draw against the Greeks in the tournament opener.
Poland will not be eliminated in case of defeat in Warsaw, while a victory against Russia would certainly raise their morale ahead of the group finale on Saturday.
Despite the Iron Curtain falling more than two decades ago, Russia and Poland remain foes. Historical conflicts and a slated Russian march have sparked tensions ahead of the game, with officials worrying about possible confrontations, at Warsaw’s National Stadium.
Russian fans were not on their best behaviour against the Czechs, and the nation’s football federation RFU (Russian Football Union) has urged supporters not to make negative headlines again amid a probe from the ruling body Uefa.
“The RFU and the Russian national team most urgently requests all real supporters to resist violent provocations and give full support to match organisers in matters of security,” a statement on the RFU website said. “Respect yourself, your motherland and your team.”
On the field, Andriy Arshavin and company were in sparkling form to underline Russia’s status as dark horses against the Czechs, but two-goal hero Alan Dzagoev warned that this was only “the first of six steps towards the title”.
Poland have Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny suspended after a red card against the Greeks and his penalty-killing substitute Przemyslaw Tyton is expected between the posts again.
“We will play in the next two games like in the first half against Greece,” promised Robert Lewandowski. In Friday’s opener, the co-hosts surprisingly lost their momentum after the Borussia Dortmund forward had headed them in front.
Greece, meanwhile, have Sokratis Papastathopoulos suspended over his dismissal against Poland and Avraam Papadopoulos is out of the tournament with a ruptured cruciate knee ligament.
The surprise 2004 champions hope to show similar morale against the Czechs, who aim to rebound quickly from the Russia debacle.
Forward Milan Baros and playmaker Tomas Rosicky returned with knocks from the opener, but are set to play today in Wroclaw.
Their attacking power will be needed as the Czechs have not found the back of the net in their last three matches against Greece — two goalless draws in friendlies plus a 1-0 defeat in the Euro 2004 semis.