Soccer Scuffle Before Poland-Russia Match Leaves 140 Injured

More than 140 people were injured in Warsaw last night in fighting between Polish and Russian soccer fans before a European Championship match between the countries.

Police detained 184 rioters, including 156 Poles and 25 Russians, in sporadic clashes near the city center. Riot squads used water cannon against groups who attacked several thousand Russian fans marching toward the stadium, waving red, blue and white flags. Eight injured remained in the hospital this morning, none in serious condition, Provincial Governor Jacek Kozlowski said.

“We got through last night without the drama some were expecting,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said told reporters today in Warsaw. “This wasn’t Poland and Russia battling in the streets, it was a few hundred fools trying to attract attention.”

Relations between Poland and Russia have been strained by centuries of wars between the Slavic neighbors. Polish Premier Donald Tusk acknowledged a “special tension” before the group-phase game and urged fans to show “maximum cordiality” and not be provoked during the match.

UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, said it started disciplinary proceedings against both teams. The Polish soccer team may face penalties after fans used fireworks in the stadium. The Russia side, which has already fined for supporters behavior in its opening game, will have to defend itself over charges of the use of fireworks, illicit banners and a person running onto the field.

Extra Police

More than 5,600 police, including units drawn from outside the capital, broke up groups of rioters trying to block Russian fans from crossing a bridge to the National Stadium shortly after 6 p.m. Ten policemen were injured, Interior Minister Jacek Cichocki told reporters today in Warsaw.

Tusk and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about the incidents by phone this afternoon and agreed that “bad stadium emotions” shouldn’t impact Polish-Russian relations and “hooligans” should be chased by police no matter their nationality, according to the Polish government’s statement today.

“There was some violence, some wild Polish and Russian fans and some one-on-one fights, but most people just wanted to walk through. It wasn’t so bad,” said Evgeny Berezin, 30, from Ekaterinburg, Russia.

Separating Supporters

A cordon of riot police stood near the newly built national stadium after driving off a group of young Poles dressed in black and gray, some wearing masks. The rioters lined a viaduct leading from Warsaw’s main bridge over the Vistula river before attacking Russian and Polish fans streaming toward the stadium. The assailants fled to a nearby square after police intervened.

Police diverted the Russian marchers to a side staircase leading off the bridge while fans from both countries resumed mingling in front of the stadium. Among them was Sylwester Wardega, a 23-year-old Polish student dressed up as Superman in red tights and a blue singlet.

“I’m trying to help out the police by getting people to lighten up,” he said in an interview.

Russia’s national anthem was greeted with whistles from a mostly Polish crowd of 55,920 before the game, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Alan Dzagoev put Russia ahead after 37 minutes with his tournament-leading third goal and Jakub Blaszczykowski tied it for Poland after 57 minutes.

Russia Holiday

Russian fans didn’t leave the stadium for as long as 40 minutes after the game to allow Poland supports to disperse. The Polish organizers of Euro 2012, pl.2012, said 9,852 Russian fans attended yesterday’s game, excluding VIPs.

The Group A match coincided with the Russia Day holiday, which commemorates Parliament’s declaration of sovereignty in 1990 during the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Soviet forces were stationed in Poland until the collapse of communism in 1989. Ten years later, Russia opposed Poland’s entry into the NATO military alliance and the stationing of U.S. rockets on Polish soil.

In 2010, Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski died in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, on the way to a ceremony in Katyn forest honoring 22,000 Polish officers and officials killed in 1940 by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s secret police. Investigations have found Polish pilots were mostly to blame for the crash, which killed all 96 people on board.

Disciplinary Action

Tournament organizer UEFA gave Russia’s soccer team a suspended six-point penalty for the qualifying tournament for the next European Championship and fined the country’s governing body 120,000 euros ($150,000) after the behavior of its fans during a 4-1 win over the Czech Republic in Wroclaw on June 8.

The points penalty will be suspended for “a probationary period running from now until the end of the play-offs of the next” regional championship, UEFA, European soccer’s ruling body, said today in an e-mail. The charges from the Poland game won’t violate the probation period, UEFA said.

The Russian soccer federation issued an appeal to its fans in Poland on its website, saying the behavior by some was “unworthy of true football fans.’

Polish Sports Minister Joanna Mucha told reporters today she’s “ashamed” of local hooligans who tried to disrupt the soccer championships, even if they didn’t succeed.

Police are still identifying participants in the street fracas from monitoring cameras and may make more arrests, Interior Minister Cichocki said. UEFA stewards detained one Russian fan for throwing a flare onto the pitch during the game, and he will be charged and deported to Russia, Cichocki said.

Poland and Ukraine have so far hosted 10 games in the tournament, which started on June 8.

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