On location

Warsaw prepares to get ready

Poland's big night draws near

John Brewin in Warsaw

All is quiet in Warsaw the day before the finals begin© AP Images

As a build-up to the moment the world turns its eye to Poland, it is low key. The streets are somewhat empty. Of greater interest to those tourists who have made their way into Warsaw's centre would appear to be the religious verse being chanted in the street. It then becomes clear. This is a bank holiday.

It is not just the British who celebrate these, then. Whereas the United Kingdom has just spent four days celebrating 60 years of its monarch, Poland is observing the Feast of Corpus Christi. This is a country where Catholicism has a significant hold. A public day of rest has been declared even when the country's biggest football match since the 1980s, and a moment to show off the new Poland is being prepared for.

This might be 'MD-1', as UEFA refers to it, but there is still something of an air of unreadiness. The level of organisation is not quite as high as it could be. Questions of how to get to the stadion meet with some befuddlement until you realise that police have been drafted in from across Poland to service the big kick-off. Once a local is found, the only confusion is supplied by the recipient of the information.

A run-in with ticket inspectors ends with a light admonishment, with "welcome to Poland" being the sign-off once recompense has been paid over. It is a constant refrain, from the taxi driver who plays good samaritan and then charges an eye-watering fare for the 7km journey from airport to hotel, and from the smiling waitress who delivers traditional Polish fare of a herring starter and a pork chops main course.

"England, my favourite, my winner," lies the cab driver. "Rooney good player." He seems not to know or care that his man will not be playing in England's opening two matches. As we speed into the city, mostly via bus lanes perhaps not supposed to be used by semi-legal cabbies, the tree-flanked boulevards that bissect the city are strewn with Euro 2012 regalia.

Warsaw, which declares itself the fourth tallest in terms of skyscrapers behind Paris, London and Frankfurt, is a mix of architecture, from the classicism of the 'Old Town' to the many greying tower blocks that dominate most former communist cities. Poland may be modernising fast but it cannot hide the scars of its history.

Poland training at the National Stadium in Warsaw© AP Images

That said, some of the more down-at-heel scenery is no worse than that to greet those Olympic visitors who may go off-piste in East London. And Warsaw has a venue to match, too. The National Stadium is high sided and imposing. The night before the game, what appears to be a tarpaulin is stretched to shelter the pitch from what looks like potentially stormy skies on a humid day.

Polska flags adorn many cars to remind that Friday is the day that the Poles have been waiting for since April 18, 2007, the day the country was declared as co-hosts with Ukraine.

The name of Robert Lewandowksi is on many lips. The Borussia Dortmund striker's face litters advertising hoardings. Warsaw's local lad made good in the Bundesliga is expected to deliver on his country's big night out. A pre-match press conference's running theme is stress and tension. Or, at least, it is as far as the local press are concerned. They reflect a nation's understandable nervousness.

Lewandowski's Dortmund colleague, and national captain, Jakub Blaszczykowski seeks to diffuse the tension by describing the players' own methods.

"Some of like to listen to music," said the rather statesmanlike Kuba. "Others like to chill out. We are all experiencing the tension but we are a little bit above it, on the second floor. We all play in clubs where the tension is quite high. A player waits his entire career to play in a great stadium in front of great fans."

Coach Franciszek Smuda added: "We can see the support on the streets. We can be proud as Poles that we have created a beautiful stadium. And there will be such a good atmosphere. I hope the fan culture will be as we expect. The last hours before the match, the discipline of my players is on a high level. I don't have to check whether they are in their beds."

The implication is clear. Even if Poland and Warsaw do not feel quite ready, the national team want to show that they are.

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