WARSAW: With Russia on a high after a superb 4-1 defeat of the Czech Republic, Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland are keeping their cards close to their chest as they brace for their politically-charged match here on Tuesday.
Poland coach Franciszek Smuda, who has dubbed Russia Group A favorites, is widely expected to make key changes to the line-up that drew 1-1 with Greece in Friday’s tense European championship opener.
“It’s a maybe,” said team media director and former Poland defender Tomasz Rzasa when pressed repeatedly for comment.
There is speculation that Smuda could start midfielders Adrian Mierzejewski and Kamil Grosicki, of Turkish clubs Samsunspor and Sivasspor.
They are seen as likely to replace Bordeaux’s Ludovic Obraniak and Maciej Rybus, despite the Terek Grozny player’s familiarity with the Russian league.
Smuda’s squad is seen as Poland’s strongest since the long-lost 1970s and 1980s glory days, raising fans’ hope.
But Smuda, who has set the quarter-finals as his basic target, warns that Poland must not lose focus if they want to bring home any points from Tuesday’s clash with the flair-filled Russians, let alone the coveted three.
He and Russia’s Dutch coach Dick Advocaat will be expecting great things from their star strikers – both rumoured to be being courted by English Premier League clubs.
Poland’s is 23-year-old Robert Lewandowski, fresh from a stellar season with German double winners Borussia Dortmund, who sent home fans wild when he scored on Friday.
Russia are counting on another sterling performance from CSKA Moscow’s 21-year-old Alan Dzagoev, their two-goal hero against the Czechs.
Poland reckon that having seen Russia in action already is a help.
“We know what to look out for, so we know how to correct our mistakes,” said Lewandowski. “You can expect a completely different game.”
With the Poles gung-ho at home, Russia are playing down the chance of a similar scoreline as against the Czechs.
“I don’t see any reason that the match with Poland can be easy,” said Advocaat.
“We will face opponents who play a completely different style of football. I hope we will obtain a result similar to the result of our previous encounter but the upcoming match will definitely be much more tough for our team.”
Poland will be without first choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, suspended for one match after a red card.
In his place comes substitute Przemyslaw Tyton, a hero for preventing a Greek win by saving the penalty resulting from Szczesny’s foul.
Sporting encounters between Poland and Russia always have an extra edge due to antipathy spanning the Tsarist and Soviet eras, stoked by Moscow’s resurgence under President Vladimir Putin.
There are fears that that could fuel trouble between Polish and Russian hooligans, as both countries are home to a violent hardcore.
UEFA has already initiated proceedings against Russia after its fans lit and threw fireworks and “Russian Empire” flags – seen as deeply provocative in parts of Eastern Europe that used to be under Moscow’s thumb – during the Czech game and fought with stewards afterwards.
Russian Football Union head Sergey Fursenko criticised the troublemakers and in a further gesture on Sunday laid a wreath at a memorial to Poland’s late president Lech Kaczynski, who died along with scores of other Polish officials in a plane crash in Russia on April 10, 2010.
Supporters of the Moscow-critical Kaczynski rally at the memorial every 10th of the month, and there were concerns it would be a flashpoint during Euro 2012 because the Russian team’s Warsaw hotel is next to it.
Kaczynski’s delegation was in Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of a World War II massacre of thousands of Polish officers by the Soviet secret police, and many Poles blame Moscow, not pilot error at a fog-bound airport, for the crash.