Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Agony and ecstasy

Being a fan of Polish football is only for masochists. Sadists, don't apply. Go root for Barca or something.

Poles are natural masochists. But so are some of the scattered foreigners like myself who have been here long enough to cheer for Poland or Polish teams. 

Misery is the watchword. Yet hope always springs eternal. And that's the problem.

A football clash Tuesday night was a case in point. Wisła Krakow was on the verge of qualifying for the Champions League tournament, which groups, er, the champions of Europe. All the Cracovians had to do was beat a team from Cyprus, as they did last week in Krakow by 1-0.

I mean, really, how hard can it be for Poland's 2010 champion to beat the champ from Cyprus? Poland has 38 million people. Cyprus? A measly 800,000. But anyone who saw the game in Krakow would know the Cypriot team was stern.

The kickoff on Tuesday was followed immediately by a nervous display from the Polish side and fire and flare from the Cypriot side APOEL FC. The hope that Wisła would rise to the occasion was vain; a real Polish fan hopes anyway but knows the team will fail in the end. APOEL duly scored in the first half.

The second half saw more of the same. APOEL's wingers ran rampant, Wisła's were cowed. APOEL got another goal, as could be expected. Just another bad loss, it seemed . . . .

The other key to Polish football misery is hope. Hope springs eternal. And hope came with a thunderous blow as a Wisła winger slotted in a goal in the second half. In aggregate terms, the goal meant Wisła would qualify for the Champions League group phase. All they had to do was not allow another goal in the remaining 20 or so minutes.

I have a friend who loves Wisła Krakow. I don't want to name any names (Vasyloo), but I am pretty sure I have a friend who cried late that Tuesday night.

Because, yes, the Wisła defence proved porous when it needed to hold and APOEL scored its goal. APOEL, the Cypriot minnows, will play with the big boys when the Champions League group phase starts. They will be beaten by the big boys, to be sure, but that's the honour for the lowly teams from Europe.

The coda for this sad tale of dashed dreams is again hope. Hope springs eternal. And hope came on Wednesday night. In another game fraught with drama, Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny rose to the occasion and made a brilliant save of a penalty that helped save his team Arsenal's arse.

We Polish football fans can now hope that Szczęsny's ascendancy marks the rise of Poland as a footballing nation one can be proud of and not a bunch of perennial underachievers better at giving fans heart attacks than attacking opponents' goalkeepers.

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