Win or it's Czech mate for co-hosts Poland

Poland offered a glint of hope that they can be more than just Euro 2012 also-rans on Tuesday but their day of reckoning is not far away.

A deserved 1-1 draw with a Russian side who failed to reproduce the brilliance of their opening win kept the co-hosts in contention for a knockout stage place, but they will need to achieve what no other Polish side has done before to stay in the competition - win a European Championship game.

The Poland of four years ago failed to win a match at Euro 2008, their debut in the continental showpiece, and bowed out tamely with one point and one goal from three games.

The 2012 version have already surpassed that, with two points and two goals after their opening 1-1 draw with Greece.

Lowest ranked of the 16 teams, Poland are slowly finding their tournament feet but it may come too late. Franciszek Smuda's side must now beat the Czech Republic in their final Group A game on Saturday or make an early exit.

The guile, guts and determination on show against Russia, added with the flash of brilliance that was Jakub Blaszczykowski's second-half equaliser, suggests they can.

Poland, who last made the latter stages of a major tournament in 1986, still have hope. After playing only friendlies since October 2009, the competitive edge has emerged again, but a ruthless streak has not.

"We will never play like Brazil. It will take a while," said Smuda.

"Today's match shows that we are capable of beating the Czechs. This team sees its chances of advancing to the quarter-finals and we will try to make it happen."

The Poles could not quite follow the lead of co-hosts Ukraine the previous night and lift a nation desperate to make their mark on the international stage but it was not for want of trying.

Energised by a wall of sound reverberating around the National Stadium, Poland took the game to Dick Advocaat's Russia and had enough strength at the back to stand up to the swift counter-attacks that had served the group favourites so well against the Czechs.

Poland's shortcomings, however, were evident again. Robert Lewandowski is the fulcrum of their attack but he was too often left isolated and lacks a strike partner to continually trouble the best European defences.

Lewandowski's goals helped Borussia Dortmund retain the Bundesliga title in Germany but it was his club team-mate Blaszczykowski who rescued the Poles with a contender for goal of the tournament.

Trailing to Alan Dzagoev's 37th-minute goal following Andrei Arshavin's precision free-kick, Blaszczykowski scored a deserved equaliser when the pacy winger cut in from the right and blasted a vicious shot past Vyacheslav Malafeev.

Smuda scented blood, sending on attacking midfielder Adrian Mierzejewski for the more defensive orientated Dariusz Dudka but the intelligent probings of Eugen Polanski failed to prize Russia open again.

Ludovic Obraniak summed up the Poles' frustration when he was substituted in stoppage time, just as he was getting set to deliver a set piece. Obraniak trudged off, then let fly at a water bottle.

Smuda said the pressure had got to his side against Greece. The Poles will need cooler heads when they face the Czechs.


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