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On the pitch one-all,outside free-for-all

Fan clashes overshadow entertaining contest as neighbours and bitter rivals Poland,Russia play out hard-fought draw

Written by Reuters | Warsaw | Published: June 14, 2012 1:51:00 am

A thrilling 1-1 draw between old adversaries Poland and Russia was marred by the worst fan violence of the European Championship so far on Tuesday,with 184 fans arrested after running street battles in Warsaw. Riot police were pelted with missiles including rocks,flares and bottles,firing tear gas and rubber bullets at fans in response after bloody fighting broke out on the bridge across the Vistula river leading to the national stadium.

The match always promised to be a highly-charged affair due to centuries of conflict between the two countries and the Soviet domination of Poland after World War two. Around 20,000 Russian fans were in the Polish capital for the Group A clash,held on Russia’s Independence Day,and before kickoff a huge flag was unfurled with the highly inflammatory slogan ‘This Is Russia’.

An estimated 100,000 Poles gathered in the city’s main square to watch the match but their hearts sunk when Alan Dzagoyev put Russia ahead after 37 minutes. Poland skipper Jakub Blaszczykowski equalised after 57 minutes with an unstoppable shot to earn the co-hosts a second consecutive draw which means they will reach the quarter-finals if they beat the Czech Republic in their final Group A game. Russia top Group A with four points and a draw against Greece in their final game will seal a quarter-final berth while Poland must beat the Czechs to progress.

Russian fans had been allowed by the Polish authorities to march to the National stadium to watch their team play in a fixture weighed down with historical significance given the complicated relationship between the two neighbours. Russian fan leaders had promised the march would be peaceful and said it had been organised to celebrate the festival of football on Russia Day. However,when the fans reached the Poniatowskigo bridge sporadic fighting broke out.

The violence escalated among groups of young men,some wearing masks,and riot police had to drag supporters away. Reuters witnesses saw one man hit on the head by an iron bar hurled through the air and 10 people needed medical treatment. Some Poles displayed a banner saying ‘Polish president murdered in Russia’,referring to a plane crash two years ago near Smolensk in western Russia that killed Poland’s president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others.

Polish authorities apologised on Wednesday for the violence. “We are very sorry that our guests were attacked by hooligans and they lost their feeling of security,” said Jacek Kozlowski,Governor of Masuria province.

UEFA condemned the violence,saying it was determined that the festive atmosphere would continue throughout the tournament. “UEFA condemns the isolated incidents that occurred yesterday in the city of Warsaw prior to and after the Poland-Russia match,when some groups of known troublemakers pelted the police with missiles and attacked fans irrespective of the team they were supporting,” European soccer’s governing body said.

Meanwhile,Uefa has said Russia will be docked six points in qualifying for the next European Championship if their fans step out of line again. The charges against Russia’s fans included setting off and throwing fireworks and the display of illicit banners at the match in Wroclaw which Dick Advocaat’s team won 4-1. Russian and Polish fans were also involved in the worst violence of the tournament around the second group game in Warsaw on Tuesday.

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