WARSAW, Poland, June 11 – Police in the Polish capital Warsaw are gearing up for what has been dubbed their biggest pre- and post-match Euro 2012 security challenge, as the national team takes on old foes Russia.
Thousands of Russian fans are planning to march across a central Warsaw bridge to the brand-new National Stadium for Tuesday’s second Group A fixture on what also happens to be the visitors’ national day.
With pockets of Poland and Russia fans having a reputation for violence — and the weight of the two countries’ shared history — concern is running high that clashes could erupt even before the opening whistle blows.
“Preparations for tomorrow’s (Tuesday’s) match constitute the biggest challenge for law and order forces in the capital. We will be keeping a constant eye on any possible threats,” said interior minister Jacek Cichocki.
Police themselves were tight-lipped about the number of Russian and Polish fans that could march to the stadium but the country’s Euro 2012 spokesman, Marcin Hera, confirmed that 9,800 Russian and 29,300 Polish fans had tickets for the match.
Russia come into the match on a high after thumping the Czech Republic 4-1 in their first match but Poland could only draw 1-1 Greece, making a win a must if they are to go through to the last eight.
A total 6,000 policemen are on duty in the capital during Euro 2012 but Warsaw police spokesman Maciej Karczynski refused to say how many will be deployed in Tuesday’s pre-and-post match security operation.
“UEFA is directly responsible for security in the stadiums and it did not consider the Poland-Russia game to be a high security risk,” Karczynski said.
Warsaw’s city security chief Ewa Gawor meanwhile said police would intervene as soon as “anyone breaks the law”.
Russia fans had agreed to begin making their way to the stadium at 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) before the 8:45 pm kick-off, she added.
Russia fans in Poland have already had brushes with the law and UEFA since the start of the tournament last Friday.
European football’s governing body UEFA is looking at allegations of racist chants by Russia fans during the game against Czech player Theodor Gebre Selassie, after a complaint from a racism monitoring group.
Disciplinary action is also being taken against the Russian football federation after fans lit and threw fireworks and displayed potentially inflammatory “Russian Empire” flags at the ground in Wroclaw.
So far, two Russia fans have been slapped with a two-year stadium ban in Poland, four face brawling charges and six others are wanted by police on suspicion of beating up several volunteer stadium stewards after the Czech Republic match.
Ten Poland fans were also detained by police after a brawl in Poznan, western Poland, before Croatia’s 3-1 victory against the Republic of Ireland on Sunday night.