Euro 2012 co-host Poland is bracing for what looks the most politically-charged match of the tournament here on Tuesday when it faces Russia which is on a high after thrashing the Czech Republic 4-1.
With Poland coach Franciszek Smuda tipping Russia as Group A favourite, his squad knows it has to prove its 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 focused, very concentrated, in order not to lose the game,” said Smuda.
Dutchman Dick Advocaat's Russia, which is based in the Polish capital Warsaw, returned there victorious after taking the Czechs to pieces on Friday in the south western 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-host Ukraine, Poland did not have to qualify for Euro 2012 and was left only with friendlies to fine-tune its tactics — and knows it has its work cut out on Tuesday. “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 on Tuesday.
Poland's man is 23-year-old Robert Lewandowski, fresh from a stellar season with German double winner Borussia Dortmund, who sent home fans wild when he scored on Friday.
Russia knows it can rely on CSKA Moscow's 21-year-old Alan Dzagoev, its 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.”
Gung-ho at home
With the Poles gung-ho at home, Russia is playing down the chance of recording a similar sort of scoreline as it 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 being 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.
Also in the mix is Sunday's monthly memorial rally in Warsaw by nationalist supporters of Poland's late president Lech Kaczynski, a frequent critic of Moscow who died in a plane crash in Russia in 2010.
In addition, Warsaw city hall has given the go-ahead for Russian supporters to march on their national day — which falls on Tuesday — though Polish authorities note that fan parades are part and parcel of football.