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Euro 2012: Poland 'feels like home' for Czech goalkeeper Cech

The co-hosts Poland will be seeking their first victory of the tournament against the Czech Republic and first quarter-final berth at the European Championship.

Petr Cech has recovered from a shoulder injury. Dominic Ebenbichler / Reuters
Petr Cech has recovered from a shoulder injury. Dominic Ebenbichler / Reuters

WROCLAW, Poland // With a place in the quarter-finals at stake, Poland are ready to make history against the Czech Republic.

The Euro 2012 co-hosts will be seeking their first victory of the tournament - and first quarter-final berth at the European Championship - Saturday at the Municipal Stadium following a pair of 1-1 draws in Group A, against Greece and Russia.

"It's going to be a mini final for us," Jakub Blaszczykowski, the Poland captain, said. "It'll be the biggest match in the recent past for all of us."

The Czechs are one point ahead of Poland after beating Greece 2-1 to revive their chances of advancing following an opening 4-1 loss to Russia. A win for either team would put them through. The Czechs, however, could be missing captain Tomas Rosicky because of an Achilles tendon injury.

The hooliganism that took place around Poland's emotionally charged match against Russia on Tuesday is not expected to be repeated today. Unlike the Poland-Russia relations that are tense due to a bitter and bloody history, the Poles have an easier relationship with their southern Slavonic neighbours and have treated them accordingly.

The mayor of Wroclaw, where the Czechs are based and play all three group matches, hosted a lunch for the team at City Hall, and thousands of Poland fans attended open training sessions, cheering the Czech players and applauding every goal in practice matches.

To the Czech team's pleasant surprise, the local public showed strong support even in the rain and even after the demoralising loss to Russia.

That was in stark contrast to the Czech fans, who booed the coach Michal Bilek and the striker Milan Baros, blaming them for the poor performance.

"So far, we've been feeling here like at home," said Petr Cech, the Czech Republic goalkeeper, who has recovered from a shoulder injury and will face Poland.

To demonstrate the friendly atmosphere before the match, Cech gave some advice to the Poles on how to solve the dilemma of whom to start in goal, Przemyslaw Tyton, who saved a penalty against Greece, or Wojciech Szczesny, who was sent off in the match and banned for the game against Russia.

"If I were a coach, I would put Lewandowski in the goal," Cech said with a smile.

Robert Lewandowski has been impressive playing as Poland's sole striker, and scored with a powerful header against Greece last week in Warsaw.

After two matches at the National Stadium, Poland has to travel to Wroclaw, which is located near the Czech border.

"We've grown used to this [Warsaw] stadium and this field, and it would be nice to play here," the Poland midfielder Rafal Murawski said. "But we're playing at home, regardless of where it is, and we're going to play to win and I think the fans there will help us win."

Authorities expect about 50,000 Czechs to flood the city and are expanding the capacity of the fan zone from 30,000 to 45,000.

* Associated Press

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