This should be a fizzer. Poland v Russia is an icy grudge match, with Poland hosting their old masters on their home territory. More importantly, there’s a lot at stake here and some seriously skilful players involved.
Russia can plausibly claim to be the best team in the tournament based purely on the first round of games, in which they destroyed the Czech Republic with an object lesson in team cohesion: half of them play for Zenit St Petersburg, and they retained the club’s crisp, one-touch counter-attacking style. Even loaned-out Arsenal ditherer Andrey Arshavin looked excellent.
Poland were cruising against Greece, 1-0 up and with the opposition down to ten men, but then the enormity of the occasion got to them and, when Greece tightened up at the back, Poland crumbled. They’ll look again to the right wing, where Jakub Blaszczykowski (above) and Lukasz Piszczek will try to set up their Dortmund team-mate, star striker Robert Lewandowski. But they certainly won’t have it as easy as they did in the first 20 minutes against Greece, who might as well have laid out a buffet for Blaszczykowski and Piszczek on the touchline. Poland would settle for a draw.
SELECTION DILEMMA: Russia coach Dick Advocaat substituted centre forward Aleksandr Kerzhakov against the Czech Republic as an act of mercy. Kerzhakov had made a cow’s lunch of so many chances, if he’d stayed on any longer he’d probably have driven the ball into his own face. Yet his link-up play – Russia’s system naturally leads to midfielders running past the striker to score – was good. Advocaat has said he’ll stick with Kerzhakov, but Pavlyuchenko and Pogrebnyak will be itching to get on.
MISSING YOU ALREADY: His replacement against Greece, Przemyslaw Tyton, may have immediately saved a penalty, but Poland would still rather play the suspended Wojciech Szczesny in goal – or “Sir Chesney” as the BBC commentators call him, in a bizarre misunderstanding of both the Polish keeper’s name and the British honours system.
PREDICTION: Poland will give it everything and scramble a 2-2 draw at home to superior opposition.