Tensions rising

One of the potential flashpoints of the tournament takes place today when Poland and Russia renew old rivalries in Warsaw.

If football matches were classified according to their capacity for trouble, this game would be categorised A*. Indeed, the Polish capital was bracing for what authorities have dubbed its “greatest ever” security challenge.

“We will be keeping a constant eye on any possible threats,” Poland’s interior minister Jacek Cichocki said, before describing the security operation as the “greatest-ever challenge for law and order forces in the capital”.

Tuesday’s match falls on Russia Day, a national holiday, and the 10,000 -strong Russian contingent plan to march from central Warsaw to the stadium, a move seen as provocative by many Poles.

Speaking of provocation, the Polish press have been doing their bit to stoke the tensions by making overt references to Poland’s victorious 1920 battle against the Bolshevik Army, known as the Miracle on the Vistula.

”In 1920 they also thought that and … they got a spanking,” Super Express said. ”Tomorrow they will get the taste of defeat again, because Poland’s team will show them Miracle on the Vistula 2.”

Dd they really have to use such incendiary language and imagery?

Newsweek’s Polish edition ran a front-page photo of Polish coach, Franciszek Smuda saluting, in the uniform of Jozef Pilsudski – who was in command of Polish troops in the 1920 battle – under the headline: ”Poland-Russia: The battle of Warsaw 2012.”

The head of the Polish football association, Grzegorz Lato, a rare voice of sanity, tried to play down the political overtones.

”I cut myself off from the politics. We are apolitical, we are not interested in the atmosphere that some in the media are trying to create,” he said. ”It is simply a sports spectacle and that’s what it should remain.”

”I think the Poland’s fans will support their team in a cultured manner and the Russians will support their team as well, and together they’ll create a wonderful spectacle in the stadium.”

Let’s hope so.

Speak your mind

In a world of carefully stage-managed press conference, aimed at providing anodyne soundbites for compliant journaists, it’s refreshing to hear someone call a spade a spade. Or in the case of Erik Hamren, a Swede a coward.

The Swedish coach branded his players “cowards” following Monday night’s 2-1 defeat to co-hosts Ukraine in Kiev.

“We’re not reaching the level we want to and that’s my responsibility as a coach,” he said.

“We didn’t show the courage we were supposed to. Only five or six players did. We all need all the players doing that.

“We were cowards in the first half and should have done more. I’m not happy with the team, I was expecting more.”

Turning back the years

What a night for Andrei Shevchenko! Written off by most observers, the old warhorse revived past glories by scoring both goals in Ukraine’s 2-1 opening game victory over Sweden.

Age has not been kind to Shevchenko the footballer, and his stock had fallen so much in the past 18 moths that his appearance in the starting line-up last night constituted a shock.

“I feel great – it was an historic game for us, it’s a victory,” said Shevchenko, who made his debut back in 1995 and is the longest serving player at Euro 2012.

“I feel like 20 years, not 35!

“If I can choose my dreams I want to dream of a day like that, it’s a fantastic day.

“I want to thank everyone who worked with me the last year-and-a-half – I had so many knee and back problems. Now I am fit thanks to them.”

Part of the appeal of sport lies in its gloriously unpredictable capacity for unscripted drama. Never was this more apparent than last night. Had a writer conceived such a ludicrous, far fetched scenario, it would have never made it past the first draft.

Read my lips

Samir Nasri has been explaining his reaction to scoring France’s goal in their 1-1 draw with England on Monday.

The midfielder levelled the scoring in the 39th minute and celebrated his goal by shouting ‘ferme ta gueuele’, which roughly translates to ‘shut the f*** up’, in the direction of the press area in Donetsk.

Initially, it was suggested that the remark was aimed at the England bench, but the Manchester City man clarified his intention after the match.

“That [my outburst] was aimed at the French press and not at others who didn’t criticise me. L’Equipe has been very unfriendly towards me and have written a lot of bad things,” Nasri told reporters.

L’Equipe were unavailable for comment, but they will bide their time and will have plenty to say about Nasri in due course.

Goal of the day

On initial viewing one wondered whether Joe Hart could have better with Samir Nasri’s equaliser, but replays confirmed that it was a superbly placed drive.

Quote of the day

“I’m really disappointed with the game. England wanted a point, they got a point, but is this the way to play football in the future? If you’re parking three buses in front of the goal, that’s not football. They’re sitting back most of the time with 10 players … I’m not impressed.”

Don’t mince your words Michael. Former Germany midfielder, Michael Ballack, now working as a pundit for ESPN, delivers a scathing verdict on England’s performance.

Press Gang

Press reaction to England’s draw with France has been interesting and thus far, surprisingly even-handed. The general thrust is that Roy Hodgson has fashioned a well organised, disciplined, dull, but potentially effective unit. The team culled exclusively from the richest league in the world will park not so much a bus, but 2 red double deckers in front of Joe Hart.

Oddly, the mood in the country appears to be mutating from ‘We have never had it so bad, put us out of our misery’ to ‘OK, we may never have had it so bad, but remember Greece and Chelsea? We may actually be bad enough to win this thing.’ The English media (strictly speaking, British, but try telling the Welsh, Scots and Irish that) have managed to turn no hype into the new hype.

The Mirror, under the puntastic headline Kings of Joleon concluded its match report with the line: “And it contributed to the fact that England started this tournament where so little is expected of them on a high.”

The Independent lauded England’s defensive effort, deeming it all the more worthy as it was played out under a hot sun. The same sun that France managed to cope with well enough.

“To understand the nature of their achievement you had to wake up to the blazing sun and the sense of a heavy challenge.”

The mood in France was less sanguine. There was understandable frustration with Les Bleus inability to translate their general superiority into something more tangible.

France Football captured the general public mood.

“Despite its overwhelming dominance throughout the game, the France team failed to secure victory on Monday against the English in their Euro 2012 opener at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk,” it stated.

L’Equipe lamented France’s inability to penetrate the Les Rosbifs ‘defensive curtain’.

“Laurent Blanc’s side did not know how to go about tearing the double defensive curtain of the English. When they pressed on the wings, they too often lacked presence in the area. When they insisted on going through the middle, they broke their teeth on Terry, Lescott and Gerrard, virtually positioned as a third central defender.”

There was a brutal honesty to the national team’s defeat  from the Swedish press , epitomised by Aftonbladet’s Simon Bank.

“Stupid, Hamren,” he says. “Sweden lost because they were not brave, because the players did not play as well as they can, because the attitude wasn’t there. But if the most important thing in football was courage, belief and attitude, then America would win the World Cup every four years. If an inflated chest is key then Sweden would had won this before kick-off when Olof Mellberg screamed the national anthem as if he had eaten up Gennaro Gattuso. But it’s not that simple.”

You’d never know that this was the same country that produced Ingmar Gergman.

Unable to find any press reaction from Ukraine, presumably the party is till going strong.

A picture speaks a thousand words

There have been acres of press coverage dissecting the England-France game, but arguably the most eloquent comment on the general standard of the play was provided by a lone French fan.

Swedes treated like vegetables

The majority of the Swedish support in Ukraine have  congregated on a camp site located on an island in the middle of the Dniepr River, and according to reports about conditions on the site, they’re not exactly ‘glamping’.

“It really isn’t great at all. There is no electricity, no hot water, not even any loo paper,” said one unhappy camper Daniel.

Even a local councillor, Olexandre Davidenko, was quoted in Ukrainska Pravda as saying: “I think the Swedes will come to regret their decision to camp there.”

You can read about the trials and tribulations of following your team in Ukraine in this enlightening piece.

Old School

Wesley Sneijder has mocked the idea of the Dutch players employing a psychologist, amid reports that rifts are developing within the dressing room.

This is Holland though, rifts are par for the course, and until they become chasms, there seems no need to worry, let alone call in the shrinks.

“Don’t even consider bothering me with that [a psychologist],” Sneijder stressed to De Telegraaf.

“If he is talking for two hours, I’ll be sleeping for two hours. That’s when I can take my rests.

“If players have problems, they should talk them out with each other. If that doesn’t help, then a psychologist won’t help either.”

Spoken like a man who doesn’t take kindly to being told what to do. And someone who is confident that what he doesn’t know about the human mind, is not worth knowing.