Having seen his side wilt under the heat of expectation in their first game, Poland coach Franciszek Smuda hopes the pressure will be off his players for their second Group A match against Russia on Tuesday.
Poland kicked off the tournament with a 1-1 draw with Greece, starting brilliantly and going into the interval a goal – and a player – to the good. That they surrendered that lead and the man advantage has been seen as a sign of the players’ nerves, but Smuda hopes there will be no more trepidation in his team back at the National Stadium Warsaw.
“That psychological burden on the players from before the tournament has gone and in the next match we will not be under the same kind of pressure,” he said, adding: “Of course, I lived with that pressure too, and I felt the 30, 40 million people on my back. It is not easy, but I have felt the warmth of those supporters, at the match and at our training sessions.”
Having won their own curtain-raiser 4-1 against the Czech Republic, Russia will reach the quarter-finals with a victory in the Polish capital, yet while many have focused on the rivalry between the two nations, Smuda told UEFA.com this is a football match like any other. “I had never considered this game to be a special one, other than the fact it is a great fixture, and it might be a great spectacle for the fans,” said the 63-year-old. “The most important thing is not to lose. We have not lost to Russia for a long time [since 1996]. Hopefully it will stay this way. “
That opening game possessed plenty of drama, not least when Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was sent off for a second-half foul, with Przemyslaw Tyton coming off the bench to save Giorgos Karagounis’s spot kick with his first touch. Smuda was wary of giving anything away about his team selection in the pre-match press conference, yet the PSV Eindhoven custodian looks likely to get the nod. “Wojtek [Szczesny], if he is on form, can help us a great deal,” said Smuda. “However, Przemyk Tyton is a good goalkeeper as well and I think in the next game against Russia he will play well.
“I have said many times before that Russia are the favourites to win our group,” continued Smuda. “They have an excellent team, an experienced squad, and they are saying as much themselves. We have a young team, younger than Russia’s, but experience is not everything, and youth can cause many problems to any experienced team.”
Following their emphatic success on Friday, Russia are dealing with expectations of their own, although coach Dick Advocaat – who like Smuda reported no injury problems – was dismissive of talk of excitement on the streets back at home. “I have no contact with Moscow,” said the Dutchman. “It was just one game that we won, and the tournament has barely started.”
As ever, he gave few hints about his tactics or starting lineup, noting: “The only thing I can say is that there is not much reason to make big changes.” Nor was he much more forthcoming when asked about the atmosphere in his squad. “They are all motivated to play,” Advocaat said. “We have a good atmosphere, but it is only when things go wrong that you work out whether things are negative or positive.”