Euro 2012

Defeated Poles exit Euro 2012 with dignity

Crushed by their Euro 2012 exit, Poland fans accepted their 0-1 defeat at the hands of the Czech Republic Saturday in the southwestern city of Wroclaw, with dignity and good sportsmanship.

"Of course I'm sad, but it's not a tragedy -- it's not the end of the world," said Poland fan Adam, his face painted in his country's national red-and-white.

"Congratulations to the Czechs," added the 40-something Pole who travelled from the nearby coal mining city of Katowice with friends to watch the match in a cafe on Wroclaw's picturesque central square.

"We'll play to the very end," cheered the Poles after Czech Petr Jiracek scored what turned out to be the the winning goal in the 72nd minute of play.

Dorota, a waitress serving guests at the cafe could not hide her tears as they streaked the red-and-white flags painted on her cheeks.

"But it's the best team that won today," she added.

Starting Saturday morning, masses of Polish and Czech fans flooded into Wroclaw for the decisive match. Decked out in their national colours and equipped with flags, "vuvuzela" trumpets and beer, they added an aura of festivity to the city.

"He who scored won," said Czech construction worker Mirek Novak, 30, who drove from Prague with friends.

To reach Poland's fourth-largest city, hundreds of Czechs took advantage of special trains.

"You know, we didn't sleep during the whole trip! We sang, danced and greeted all of Poland," said Ales Pudel from Olomouc in eastern Czech Republic, after disembarking from the train at Wroclaw's main station.

"The rivalry between Czechs and Poles, it's not just in football," he added, before joining a dozen other Czechs to sing, "He who doesn't jump is not Czech!"

Also among the crowd at the train station was Michal Abraham from Opava in northern Czech Republic, who said, "I'm sure the ambiance will be perfect, and I also hope we'll win."

In late afternoon, the Czech blue-red-white national colours were swallowed up by a sea of Polish fans carrying flags, wigs and scarves in their red and white colours.

"Ah, you Czechs! It's you who'll go home tonight!" a young Wroclaw resident said with a smile, before cordially embracing a Czech fan.

One man stood out among the motley crowd: dressed in an impeccable suit and flanked by bodyguards, Czech Minister of Defense Alexandr Vondra made his way to the fanzone near Wroclaw's central square.

"Let's go guys! We're with you! We're gonna win!" chanted legions of Czech fans who gathered before the game outside the showy neo-Baroque Monopol hotel where the Czech squad had set up camp.

"You support us, we win," said a banner on the bus that brought star goalie Petr Cech and his teammates to the Wroclaw stadium for the key match.

Outside a small cafe, another group happily sang the Czech national anthem, whose lyrics include "Where Is My Home?" In fact, home is not far away.

The Czech border is within a stone's throw -- Wroclaw is only about 280 kilometres (175 miles) from the Czech capital Prague.

Another reason why Czechs feel at home in Wroclaw is the city's emblem featuring a lion, which is exactly the same as the design Czech players have emblazoned on their shirts -- the legacy of Wroclaw spending two centuries under Czech rule from 1335 onwards.

In a narrow lane in central Wroclaw, Czechs and Poles share tables outside a cafe named "Czeski film", or "Czech film". In Polish the phrase translates into an idiom meaning something "completely unintelligible".

"Poland, Poland, the red-and-whites!" goes up a chant from Polish fans, waving giant red and white Polish flags.

"The Czechs? We love them like brothers, but tonight there will be no room for brotherhood," chuckled Pawel, well before learning the sad final result.

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