- -  Day # 320  + +

EU > Poland > Cracow

Polish football drama

Cracow, PL (View on map)

Euro 2008 is moving ahead at full speed. Two matches will decide which one of the four teams in pool B will make it to the quarterfinals. One of these teams is representing my current host country Poland. Their chances of making it to the final are slim: a lost game against Germany and a draw against Austria put Poland in the last place. Tonight`s match Poland-Croatia may bring relief, but only if Austria beats Germany. Below report describes how Cracow is experiencing this vital match.

Piotr (25):

`I will pray for Poland to win with more than two goals difference`
The first thing worth mentioning is the way Poland`s anticipated win against Austria was `stolen` by the referee, who awarded Austria a penalty in very final stage of the match. This disputed penalty led to furious reactions from the Polish team, their fans and even the Polish prime minister, who was quoted saying `I was ready to kill when the penalty was awarded.` This statement in turn caused indignant reactions from all over Europe, but barely any from within Poland.

Ahead of the match
Most of the Poles I speak to today not only agree with what their prime minister declared ? they are also happy to defend that he actually made this statement. `The prime minister simply expressed what all Poles were feeling at that moment`, many say. Piotr (25, photo) is one of the few respondents who try to neutralise the controversial quote. `He may have made this remark on a personal note or maybe he meant it as a joke.`

Piotr has high expectations tonight`s match. `The Croatian coach has already said that he would show up with a B-team. Croatia is already qualified, so why should they bother winning against us. I will pray to God that Poland will win with the required two goals difference. Then, we depend on the result of Germany against Austria but who knows what surprises that match may bring. I am confident that Poland will make it to the next round. If so, I may end up drinking a lot of vodka tonight.`

`I would have a hard time describing how I think the Polish team played so far. It`s the national team of my own country, so I may be too emotionally involved to make a proper judgment. Overall, I think that they have not yet been able to live up to the expectations we had before the start of the tournament.`

Evening program
Daniel (21) will watch Poland-Croatia at home with a couple of friends. `We should have won our second match against Austria. Then, we would have been in a completely different situation. I think that we can beat Croatia, but the combined requirement of Austria winning against Germany makes a happy ending slightly unlikely.`

Bartek (21) is not planning to watch tonight`s match: `I saw the other two and I want to save myself the disappointment of seeing Poland get kicked out of the tournament. I will only start watching again if they make it to the quarter finals and actually stand a chance of proceeding to the semis.`

During the match
As the evening moves toward the starting time of the match, a small crowd starts assembling at Plac Szczepanski, not far from Cracow`s old market square. By the time the match start, an approximate 1000 people have taken their places in front of a giant screen than will show the football match in large size. The area is limited by small fences, beer stands and a small crowd of unintelligent- looking youngsters with army-like equipment. They belong to one of Poland`s many `security firms`, whose representatives look like police officers but work as normal employees of commercial firms. They express a mixture of indifference and random malevolence against individuals who in any way look like they threaten their authority ? regardless of how much of a threat they are for anybody in the audience.

One older man with a backpack is not welcome to the party and ends up being run after by one of the bald `bodyguards`. Some bad words are exchanged and the man who is supposed to stand in for people`s safety shows fanatic happiness when taking out his gummi weapon stick to put power to his words. The man in backpack runs away. A couple of witnesses smile at the his silly bravery, which is rather unusual in Poland. The most common way around intimidation is for the subordinate to create sympathy for his or her cause by playing the hurt victim. Questioning the authority of the one who`s in charge is barely advisable.

Back to the Plac Szczepanski and the football match, which is not developing well for Poland. The result at half time is still 0-0, while the Polish team needs to win by at least two goals difference. Ola (22) remains confident that Poland will score those two goals. She also keeps having hopes for Austria to win against Germany although she is not aware of the half time score of that match. `If Poland makes it to the next round, I will probably celebrate and have a couple of beers. If they just end up winning this match, I might have a few as well. If they draw or loose, I think I`ll just go home and wait for the 2010 World Championships`, Ola says.

Waldek (33) has similar plans, except that he will drink vodka instead of beer in case of a Polish victory. Or actually, in any case, because his plans won`t change if Poland loses. `I think the atmosphere here is terrific. It`s nice to see so many different people who otherwise support different teams. They now unite to support Poland. I am enjoying myself, and I keep hoping for a good result.`

Agnieszka (27) is not too happy about the first part of the match. `Our goal keeper was the only one who performed at a reasonable level. I still believe that we can make it to the next round, but it won`t make a difference for the rest of my evening. Tomorrow is another working day, whether Poland wins or whether they lose.` Arek (33) thinks about it the same way: `I don`t care so much about football. I`m a biker and I care about bikes. I just happened to pass by. It would be nice if Poland won, but I don`t think they stand a good chance of making it to the next round.`

Second half and beyond
One corner of the square is occupied by a group of youngsters dressed up in red and white. They don`t seem too impressed when Croatia scores its first goal, increasing the minimum number of goals scored by Poland to three. The nature of the songs does change as time is ticking away the supporter`s hope. Marcin (21) helps me by translating a couple of songs that do not exactly sound like the Polish anthem. `Fuck the referee and his family`, `Fuck the Polish Football Association`, `Play till death follows` and `Fuck the UEFA` are but a few of them. Another consists of a dialogue `Shot the motherfuckers down` which is replied by: `Poland, White and Red`, the latter being sung at the melody of the Pet Shop Boys` Go West. Another creative expression is `Kurwacja`, only a few letters away from Chorwacja, which stands for Croatia. Tonight`s version translates into something like `Whore-i- stan`. The final chant is `Who doesn`t jump is with the police`, which has a big share of the audience move up and down while putting on the wildest of facial expressions.

Should the audience in Cracow have had any influence on the final result of the match, it wouldn`t have been the disappointing 0-1 that feaures on the score board after 90-few minutes. Marcin sadly accepts the final balance: three matches, one point and back home after the first round. `I think the penalty in the match against Austria killed us, although we were not good enough either. Our players are not good enough and neither is our team. We have a great coach, Leo Beenhakker from The Netherlands, who I hope will serve until the end of his contract in 2012. That`s when the next European Championships will be held, and Poland will then be hosting the event. Beenhakker the best coach Poland has ever had: the first one to create a team spirit and some mental endurance with the players. It simply wasn`t enough this time.` Most other respondents confirm that they don`t find there`s anybody to blame in Poland`s performance. Some say the players are too old, others say they aren`t quick enough. The common verdict is most of all that they were simply not good enough.

New favourites
Piotr (23) is disappointed by Poland`s defeat. `It`s an unpleasant surprise. During the qualification round, we beat Portugal and drew against them. We kept Finland and Serbia out of Euro 2008 and were hoping to show our best football in this tournament.` Przewek (23) thinks that the best opportunity to impress Europe was by beating Germany in the first match. `We didn`t manage to. We knew that the final match had to be perfect and it wasn`t. I am still trying to come to terms with it. I will have to find a new favourite for the title, because so far I was concentrating on Poland`s achievements. I will certainly keep watching the other matches, because I think it has been a great tournament so far.`

Kamila (23) will from now on be cheering for Italy. `I`m a big fan of Francesco Totti, but he is not playing. I still hope that Italy will win the tournament, because they have a great team.` Tomek (26) has also made up his mind for a new favourite team in Euro 2008. Like many of the Poles that I speak to before and after the match, Tomek is from now on a fanatic supporter of the Dutch team. `I think their second team will win against Romania tomorrow. It would be nice if Italy won against France so they could be in the tournament a little longer. No standard meets the Dutch though. Their play has been awesome so far, it`s a big pleasure to watch their matches. I hope they will meet Spain in the final and win.`

Within half an hour after the match, all fans have blended in with the handful of people still waking around Cracow`s main market square. Poland goes back to work tomorrow without any further Euro 2008 illusions. Most of the fans in downtown Cracow seem to be heading for bed. A silent night is expected, but without any guarantees that Polish fans abroad do not cause any havoc in an attempt to cope with their team`s fate.

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