There is an old adage, which, over time, has been woven into the lexicon of our game. It stipulates that, should a team luxuriate for an extended period in the ascendancy, they need to score a goal. Think of it as the punctuation defining a well-constructed sentence. Think of it as the cherry on top of the cake. Think of it as a need of paramount importance. However, when Poland and Russia faced off in Warsaw, this maxim was ignored, or, at the very least, let unfulfilled. Such feint recklessness led, paradoxically, to a pulsating and emotive contest.
Any issue with even the merest hint of contest between the great nations of Poland and Russia ignites fervent interest and scrutiny. Such is their relationship. After decades languishing in the neglectful lair of Moscow-sponsored communism and the dense oppression of Stalin, the Polish are entitled to their indignation. However, this is a national rivalry communal and mutual in its very character. Russians have an inherent dislike of Poland, with political and diplomatic disagreements manifesting itself, in the lower classes, as a misread enmity and hatred. Thus, there are frequent clashes. On this, of all days, then, the two adversaries would meet. With nationalistic sentiment spewing out of every enclave of Poland at the present moment, with frequent spurts of patriotism and pride, emotions were running extremely high.
Added to this volatile concoction was the spectre of Russia Day. A public holiday in that nation, Russian's tend to celebrate their identity with forthright and evident gusto. An identity, that is, with which the denizens of Poland share a deeply entrenched skepticism and suspicion. Such a fire needs only the merest fuel to ignite. The far-from-subtle march of 5,000 impassioned Russians through the depth of Warsaw was the ultimate provocation. Scores of Polish fans, reportedly infiltrated by factions of extreme right-wing organisations, ambushed and attacked the Russian's, as chaos let loose on the streets of the grand city.
Though not quite akin to the chair-throwing, missile-launching escapades of their representative fandom, the game on the field was similarly a war. A war of attrition and guts. It became clear, from the embryonic stages of the first half, that this was a re-moulded Poland. Their expansive and lightning-quick ethos early in the tournament opener so evidently left them devoid of energy in the embers of the game. On this evening, there was a more measure poise to their play, a purpose, direction and meaning conducive, in swathes of idealism, with success. With this freedom, Poland looked impressive and encouraging. Yet, when unsatisfied, that aforementioned adage snapped with cruel vengeance.
Failure to convert ascendancy into lead left the hosts vulnerable. One delicious Andrei Arshavin delivery from a wide free-kick was swept home, amid clouds of porous defending, by Alan Dzagoev. Russia in command, as in history.
This was a goal which galvanised Russia, a team that, having looked like true world-beaters against the Czech Republic in victory, seemed to be a little sluggish early on. Now, the Poles would feel their full wrath. The second half was, for all intents and purposes, an onslaught. With admirable fitness and phenomenal fluidity, Russia streamed forward. With fantastic interactivity and vibrant buzz, Russia streamed forward. With true imagination and slick momentum, Russia streamed forward. Time and time again, Russia came forth with smart passing combinations and a lethal counter-attacking vein. Yet, time and time again, an overwhelmingly positive move broke down at the very last stage. So often, the last ball, which would have dissected Poland into a state of utter carnage, was lacking.
Then, up popped that old adage once more.
Against not the run of play, but rather the fast-moving tide of play, Poland broke free from the shackles. Streaking, with new found exuberance, down the line, the hosts built and zapped a move together. With a flash and a bang, suddenly, out of the blue, Poland had done it! The inspirational Jakub Blaszcyzyknowski, a man who, like his home nation, has prevailed through the most nightmarish and recurring of adversity, let rip, with utmost technical perfection, a wondrous drive. Bringing sheer pandemonium into the heart of a nation, he had done it. Rescuing a point for the Polish against Russia is one of the most noble and mighty things a man from this part of the world can do. Jakub did it.
So, once again the grand and famously polarised nations of Poland and Russia knocked the stuffing out of one another. This time, it was on the football field, though. This time, it was a joy to watch. A game so saturated with the palpable undertones of political animosity and disquiet, so evidently bathed in a smog of tension, was still able to morph into a splendid spectacle. The rivalry may well have intrigued us, but it was the actual football which entertained us; a concept which has been the manifest wish of every football fan since such a nation was deemed host of the Championship.