In a pulsating affair in Warsaw co-hosts Poland put in a sterling effort to not only frustrate bitter rivals Russia, but also to keep alive their hopes of progressing through a fascinating Pool A in the EURO 2012 Championships.
Before kick-off there were nasty rumors circulating.
Some insisted that a minority of Russian fans intended to fashion paper aeroplanes out of match programmes, so as too cruelly mock former Polish Prime Minister Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash in 2010. There were reports of pockets of violence and marches, with it even being suggested a Russian supporter had died.
This was later called an exaggeration, but there were still issues with running battles and missiles thrown. Nevertheless, this would have been the actions of a minority and the true depth of issues may only be reported the morning after the night before.
There was enough action on the park, anyway.
The game flicked off at an incredible tempo, with players from both sides displaying willingness to run and change position. Russian full-back Yuri Zhirkov was prepared to cover the flank for the full length of the pitch whilst Poland’s Robert Lewandowski showed the kind of line-running and touch that has seen him touted before the tournament.
That man and teammate Eugen Polanski conspired to score in the 17th minute but it was chalked off for an offence. In running forward, powered on by a deafening crowd of home supporters and the steady thud of Russians clearly enjoying Russia Day, the ball was moved from player to player as tackles flew in.
This determination to do two rival nations proud produced stirring efforts. For the whole game Polish centre-back Perquis was clattering into full-blooded challenges whilst Russian ‘keeper Malafeev pulled off a sensational stop in the first half from a swinging free-kick and then threw his body unflinchingly at Lewandowski’s feet in the second as he bore down on goal.
It was a swinging free-kick that led to the first goal in that first half as Andrei Arshavin curled one in front of the net and, as Russian’s poured past the statuesque Polish, Alan Dzagoev got a nicked head on the ball to bypass a planted goalkeeper.
If there were worries that the Russians would dominate following their previous 4-1 drubbing of the Czechs, however, the home side put paid to that.
Careering into the second half knowing that they could not capitulate they picked up the pace once more. In the 57th minute captain Jakub Blaszczykowski took up the ball on the right flank. He cut in and wrong-footed defenders with a sublime touch, taking him into acres of space, and unleashed a revolving shot that bent round Malafeev. Rapturous applause burst out as Blaszczykowski slid towards his fans and EURO 2012 immortality.
After this both sides began biting more and both ends were bothered.
Boos rang out if players passed backwards, but in the end it fell to one unlikely chance for Poland. A cross was pumped in, but the game ended without further incident and everyone sat back, exhausted but delighted with what they had just seen.
With games like these EURO 2012 proves that any games can produce magic if all the ingredients are there.
We shall have to wait and see what happens with the aftermath of this, in more ways than one.