Exciting games take Euro 2012 spotlight off racism

By Graham Dunbar

Associated Press

Published: Friday, June 8 2012 3:45 p.m. MDT

Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech and Michal Kadlec watch the ball enter the net as the Russians scored their first goal during the Euro 2012 soccer championship Group A match between Russia and Czech Republic in Wroclaw, Poland, Friday, June 8, 2012.

Jon Super, Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland — Two compelling matches took the spotlight away from claims of racism in Poland and Ukraine as the European Championship kicked off on Friday.

Poland's new National Stadium in Warsaw was a vibrant mix of color and noise as the co-host took early control against Greece.

Still, a Polish side also cheered on by 100,000 supporters watching on giant screens in Warsaw city center was ultimately happy to hang on for a 1-1 draw. Substitute goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton saved a late Greek penalty kick.

Russia then impressed in beating the Czech Republic 4-1 at Wroclaw to lead the Group A standings.

Earlier Friday, the racist behavior of Polish fans targeting the multi-ethnic Netherlands squad in Krakow was a smoldering issue which sparked into life.

Tournament organizer UEFA, which has stood by Poland and Ukraine through five years of difficult preparations, acknowledged "isolated incidents of racist chanting" during a Dutch practice session in front of 25,000 fans on Wednesday.

"We will not accept that one of us is confronted with monkey chants," said team captain Mark van Bommel.

UEFA promised action if such abuse is repeated. It had been predicted last month by a British television program, called "Stadiums of Hate," which highlighted bigotry among fans in Krakow.

"I think it's unfair for Poland and Ukraine to be considered racist countries," UEFA communications director Alexandre Fourtoy said.

UEFA could be relieved that the first matches on Friday evening were plentiful in goals, good football and talking points.

Poland forward Robert Lewandowski scored a 17th-minute headed goal, and the hosts seemed well set when Greece defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off before half time.

Greece substitute Dimitris Salpigidis leveled in the 51st, then earned a penalty when brought down by Wojciech Szczesny. The Poland goalkeeper was shown a red card, but understudy Tyton came off the bench to save captain Giorgos Karagounis's spot kick.

Russia was rewarded for fluent first-half attacking to lead 2-0 with goals from Alan Dzagoev and Roman Shirokov.

The Czechs had brief hope from Vaclav Pilar's 52nd-minute goal, but Dzagoev struck in the 80th and substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko scored two minutes later for the Euro 2008 semifinalist.

On Saturday, the big guns enter the competition with The Netherlands facing Denmark in Kharkiv and Germany playing Portugal in Lviv.

Warsaw police detained and questioned four activists after they removed their shirts in front of the stadium.

The Femen group says it fears the tournament will cause an increase in prostitution.

UEFA launched its Euro 2012 anti-discrimination campaign, which has funded a team of expert spotters from European fans' groups who will report offensive chants, banners and behavior at matches.

"It is sad that we have to talk about this — we don't need this," Netherlands great Ruud Gullit, who is black, said at the launch event hosted by Poland's foreign ministry.

The Dutch players had been targeted just hours after making solemn and emotional visits to the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps close to Krakow.

On Friday, some England players became the fourth group based in Poland — following Germany and Italy — to make the harrowing trip to see where the Nazis killed more than one million Jews, Poles, Soviet prisoners of wars, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals and political opponents.

"You cannot understand how it can be so systematic, dehuman," England coach Roy Hodgson said.

Back in Krakow, other England players visited the factory where German businessman Oskar Schindler employed Jewish workers to spare them from concentration camps.

England has allowed two clear days to refocus before its match on Monday against France in Donetsk, Ukraine.

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