Jakub Blaszczykowski struck a superb second-half equaliser to keep Poland's
hopes intact as Russia failed to build on Alan Dzagoev's opener.
Co-hosts Poland know they will reach the last eight of UEFA EURO 2008
with victory against the Czech Republic on Saturday after Jakub Blaszczykowski
cancelled out Alan Dzagoev's 37th-minute opener in this Group A game at
the National Stadium Warsaw.
Russia rode some early pressure before taking a lead through the tournament's
leading scorer, Alan Dzagoev, but having failed to find a finishing touch
after breaching the Poland defence on numerous occasions, Dick Advocaat's
side fell prey to a passionate second-half rally, with home captain Blaszczykowski
thudding a powerful effort past Vyacheslav Malafeev on 57 minutes.
For the first time in a UEFA European Championship finals, Russia fielded
the same starting XI in consecutive games, with Advocaat selecting Aleksandr
Kerzhakov despite some wayward finishing in their opening 4-1 win against
the Czech Republic. With Przemyslaw Tyton replacing the suspended Wojciech
Szczesny, Poland's only outfield adjustment saw AJ Auxerre midfielder
Dariusz Dudka step in for the less experienced Maciej Rybus.
As they had against Greece on Friday, Franciszek Smuda's side shaped up
fast, and might have gone in front after six minutes, Malafeev scrambling
the ball away with his foot after Sebastian Boenisch met Ludovic Obraniak's
free-kick from the right. Robert Lewandowski came within two metres of
the goal of his life when he volleyed over the bar from distance in the
11th minute, and Poland then had the ball in the net but Eugen Polanski's
effort was chalked off for offside.
It was the culmination of a darting move which the Russians would have
been proud of, and a sign that while they may have lacked their opponents'
innate menace, Poland's passion can move mountains. Under pressure, though,
they never seemed comfortable; with Andrey Arshavin insinuating his way
into the game, Poland's rearguard foundation creaked.
Saving tackles and Russia's haphazard finishing papered over the cracks,
but the whole edifice buckled on 37 minutes, when Arshavin man whipped
in a free-kick from the left, which Dzagoev darted in from nowhere to
nudge around Przemyslaw Tyton. Not a big man, the PFC CSKA Moskva forward,
but he is indisputably clever and has three goals at UEFA EURO 2012 already.
Poland's response was suitably spirited, Malafeev diving to force a powerful
Obraniak drive away. They twice picked out Lewandowski in the box just
after the restart, though the lone wolf forward was denied a shot on both
occasions. Russia looked like they could shred their opponents on the
break, but that was not Poland's concern; optimism drove them forward,
and their slightly reckless spirit was rewarded on 57 minutes when Blaszczykowski
took the ball on the edge of the box, nudged it infield and sent a venomous
shot past Malafeev.
Tyton then made a diving save from Dzagoev on a par with his effort to
deny Giorgios Karaounis from the penalty spot against Greece, before Malafeev
got down low to block a Polanski effort as the action switched ends at
dizzying speed. Russia closed in, Poland sprang free, again and again.
Russia, still group leaders, will wonder how they failed to add to their
tally as they look ahead to Saturday's last group fixture against Greece.
For Poland, meanwhile, it was not a win, but a small triumph for hope