After handing out a thumping to Czech Republic on the opening day of the finals Dick Advocaats’ side looked on course to seal a quarter final berth after Alan Dzagoev nodded them into 38th minutes lead in a tense first half. But just 12 minutes after the break captain Jakub Blaszczykowski’s superb strike earned Poland a point and leaving Group A poised on knife-edge with all four team still mathematically able to reach the last eight going into the final set of fixtures on Saturday.
Clashes between rival fans before kick-off threatened to overshadow the game and the turbulent atmosphere appeared to weigh heavily on the players minds during a tense opening. A stalemate in their first match against Greece left Frank Smuda’s men requiring a win to keep their hopes alive of progressing out of the group stage and they should have scored early on. Ludovic Obraniak’s free kick was met by Sebastian Boenisch only for Russia goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev to save instinctively with his legs.
Poland then thought they’d taken the lead in the 19th minute after a slick one-touch link up between Robert Lewandowski and Eugen Polanski saw the latter drill a low shot past Malafeev that was quickly ruled out for offside. The Poles brand of fluent passing football was causing Russia all sorts of problems and defender Sergei Ignashevich had to be at his best to deny Lewandowski as he looked to have a clear sight of goal in the penalty area.
Russia soon picked up some momentum and Andrei Arshavin was the architect behind their first meaningful opportunity crossing for Alexander Kerzhakov to head well wide before providing the telling assist for the opening goal.
The Arsenal winger whipped in a delicious free kick from the left that was met by a glancing header from Dzagoev for his third goal of the championships. Poland offered an immediate riposte as Blaszczykowski saw a fierce drive beaten away by Malafeev as Russia seized control of the game. Dzagoev and Zhirkov both had chances to double their sides advantage before the goalscorer was unlucky not to win a penalty.
Unfortunately half time came at the worst possible time for Advocaat’s men as Poland came out roaring after the break and could have been level within a minute after Polanski played through Lewandowski but the Borussia Dortmund frontman was forced wide by Malafeev. Obraniak and Damien Perquis then came close as the co-hosts upped the ante in search of an equaliser.
It eventually arrived just before the hour as Blaszczykowski got on the end of an incisive breakaway down the right, nipped in between two Russian defenders and sent a superb left footed drive past Malafeev’s and into the top corner to spark euphoric scenes on the Polish bench. Adrian Mierzejewski then struck wide from 25-yards as Poland sniffed an unlikely winner. Lewandowski then saw a shot blocked before Sebastian Boenisch skipped past two Russian defenders and blazed over.