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The Warsaw Voice » Society » June 25, 2008
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Hope Dies Last
June 25, 2008   
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They cheered, jeered and finally trudged home disappointed in the rain. Fans who flocked to giant outdoor television screens in Warsaw June 16 to watch what turned out to be Poland's final match in the European soccer championships knew hopes were slim. But even those scant hopes were dashed as Poland's Euro 2008 campaign ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

Despite the occasionally heavy rain, Pole Mokotowskie park in the Ochota district drew a mostly young crowd of thousands to watch Poland's final match against Croatia on two large screens or at one of the park's several pubs.

Although there was much cheering, fans were guarded about Poland's chances. The team faced near-impossible odds of advancing to the quarterfinals.

Marta Nowak, 23, a medical student at the University of Warsaw, said ahead of the match, "I think this game will go as usual, but I am here to enjoy it with my friends."

Musician Michał Zmienny, 28, who had watched Poland's two previous Euro 2008 matches at Pole Mokotowskie, said, "There were many more people here last time. The place was full." Did he think the depressed attendance was due to the rain? "No, not the rain, but Poland's small chances of winning."

Perhaps the biggest cloud hanging over the already damp evening was frustration about Poland's earlier controversial draw with Austria on June 12. For most Polish fans, frustration centered on Howard Webb, the British referee who awarded Austria a penalty kick in the final minutes of the game against Poland, allowing the Austrians to score.

Some of the fans at Pole Mokotowskie spent the hour before the game obscenely booing Webb. Nowak said of Webb's call, "That was a nightmare, I don't even want to be reminded of it."

Enthusiasm was much more muted at Złote Tarasy, a downtown mall where another outdoor television screen had been set up. By the second half, attendance paled in comparison to attendance at the mall for Poland's two previous matches. As it became clear that Poland would not overcome Croatia's one-goal lead in the final minutes of the game, Złote Tarasy's plaza began to rapidly clear out.

Maria Kalinowska, 26, who works at a local bank, was among the few who stayed until the end. She said of Poland's loss, "It was to be expected." Still, there was one bright spot-Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc, christened "King Artur" by fans for his acrobatics in front of the net that repeatedly saved Poland's skin. "I think Boruc will come home a national hero," said Kalinowska.

Sean Jackowitz
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