Facebook Twitter

Poles come out in force for Euro 2012 kickoff

SHARE Poles come out in force for Euro 2012 kickoff

WARSAW, Poland — The mood among Poland's expectant supporters shifted from enthusiastic cheering to silent disbelief and finally to resigned relief.

About 110,000 people packed into Warsaw's fan zone Friday for the European Championship's opening game between Poland and Greece. Painted and clad in national colors, home fans chanted "Poland, the white-and-red team" at the top of their voices, clapped in unison and held "Poland" scarves above their heads in a breathtaking sight as they watched the game on two giant televisions screens.

Things didn't quite go as planned, though.

After Poland took an early lead, Greece equalized before a match of undulating drama finished 1-1, a scoreline that was met with largely somber faces.

"A draw is better than a loss," said Radek Sliwinski, a truck driver from Gorlice in southern Poland. "Greece was to be our pass to going through, but it didn't happen."

He said every fan should come to a fan zone at least once in his life to experience the overwhelming collective emotions. His own train trip of almost 20 hours was worth the experience.

After years of intensive preparations to co-host Euro 2012, enthusiasm exploded among Polish fans in Warsaw ahead of the opening match.

Polish media said large crowds also gathered in a fan zone in Wroclaw, the southwestern city where Russia beat the Czech Republic 4-1 later Friday.

Festivities got under way in Ukraine, too — even though the first matches there aren't played until Saturday.

In Kiev, scores of yellow-and-blue balloons — the colors of the Ukrainian national flag — floated above the capital's central square. Members of an elite orchestra performed music and danced, while young women marched down a broad avenue waving pompoms and carrying the flags of all the participating teams.

"I really hope that this championship will be truly spectacular and will give everybody lots of powerful emotions," Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a giant Ukrainian swine pig optimistically named Psychic Pig predicted that Poland would beat Greece and that Russia would defeat the Czechs in the opening matches. At least one result was correct.

In Warsaw, several Ukrainian feminists made themselves noticed when they removed their shirts — and promptly got detained. The group, Femen, opposes Euro 2012, fearing it will cause a spike in prostitution.

The Poles were sharing the capital's streets with Greek fans in blue jerseys who said they were hoping for a win to lift their spirits amid unending crisis at home — and, of course, because they love their team.

Lambros Zoumbos, 40, a bank employee from Florina, Greece, said he knew a Greek victory wouldn't do anything to end the turmoil in his country. "But maybe it will give us some pleasure," he said.

Theodosios Stefanakis, from Rhodes, added: "Football can make us happy."

The Polish fans were decked out in all manner of white-and-red clothes and accessories, from top hats and clown wigs to scarves and T-shirts. Some used the flag as a cape, others painted little flags on their faces.

They gave a reverberating, collective cry of joy when striker Robert Lewandowski made it 1-0 to Poland.

But then came Greece's equalizer by Dimitris Salpingidis and a red card for Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. The crowd held their breath as Greece took the penalty kick.

Sighs of relief: It was saved by replacement keeper Przemyslaw Tyton.

"There's a huge feeling of excitement here," said Monika Misiuda, who traveled from Krakow and was sipping on raspberry-infused beer in the fan zone. "It's great."