TOP NOTCH: Hosts Poland braced for highly-charged clash with Russians
WARSAW: EURO 2012 co-hosts Poland are bracing for what looks the most politically-charged match of the tournament tomorrow when they face Russia who are on a high after thrashing the Czech Republic 4-1.
With Poland coach Franciszek Smuda tipping Russia as Group A favourites, his squad know they have to prove their staying power after throwing away a lead and drawing 1-1 with Greece in a tense tournament opener in Warsaw's National Stadium on Friday.
"We need to be very focussed, very concentrated, in order not to lose the game," said Smuda.
Dutchman Dick Advocaat's Russia, whose base-camp is in the Polish capital Warsaw, returned there victorious after taking the Czechs to pieces on Friday in the southwestern city of Wroclaw.
"It's going to be another interesting game for both teams," said Advocaat, who has less need to bang the drum.
Like co-hosts Ukraine, Poland did not have to qualify for Euro 2012 and were left only with friendlies to fine-tune their tactics -- and know they have their work cut out today.
"The match with Russia is going to be something completely different," said 22-year-old midfielder Maciej Rybus, who signed for Russian club Terek Grozny from Legia Warsaw this year.
"They don't defend like the Greeks. But we'll have got more used to the championship feel."
Smuda and Advocaat will look to their young gun strikers -- both rumoured to be being courted by English Premier League clubs -- to make their mark again today.
Poland's man 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 know they can rely on CSKA Moscow's 21-year-old Alan Dzagoev, their two-goal hero in Wroclaw, who had been a doubt for the tournament due to a broken toe but is set to play a starring role.
However, there is no sense of inferiority felt by Poland's staff even after they analysed the Russian's Wroclaw performance.
"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 recording a similar sort of scoreline as they did against the Czechs.
"We can't let ourselves get too carried away," insisted forward Roman Pavlyuchenko, saying the Russians should put Friday's victory behind them.
"The task isn't complete yet and we can't afford to take it easy."
Poland will be without first choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, suspended for one match after sent off for tripping Greek attacker Dimitris Salpigidis.
In his place comes overnight hero Przemyslaw Tyton, who came on and saved the ensuing Greek penalty to keep the score level.
Tyton was originally Smuda's third choice, but moved up the pecking order after Szczesny's Arsenal and Poland understudy Lukasz Fabianski was injured in pre-Euro training.
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.
That, plus the fact that both Poland and Russia have a hooligan hardcore, has fuelled fears of trouble, heightened when Russian fans beat up Polish match stewards after the Wroclaw match. AFP