By John Brewin, Senior Editor at ESPNSoccernet
The morning after the night before was one of regret for the people of Poland. There were bleary eyes at Frederic Chopin Airport though some red-and-white bedecked fans were gamely attempting more beer at 6:40 a.m. local time. The big night out had hardly been a disaster, but it wasn't quite the triumph that all had yearned for either.
Those ubiquitous Polska flags hung just that little bit more limply and I am informed that the vast amount of money likely generated by their production hasn't even gone in Polish pockets; My cab driver on arrival in Poznan told me that they're actually made by a Romanian company. His other topic of conversation was the previous night's match. "First time fantastic, second time catastrophe," he laments. "It is stupid, so stupid."
Though a distance away from the scene of the crime, Poznan is clearly still feeling the pain. On Tuesday, the Russians march in to Warsaw on their own Independence Day and the implications could be almost fatal if the Russians play as they did in Friday night's other fixture. After all, the hosts could go to the final group game with no control over their fate. It is a worry for the spirit of Euro 2012 since a tournament flies better when the hosts are still involved.
It would be a shame if Poland, and of course Ukraine, were to go the same way as Switzerland/Austria did in 2008, and South Africa did in 2010. Poland's performance, and that of the home crowd, brought back echoes of the last World Cup's opening game. Poland hopes Robert Lewandowski will not be their Siphiwe Tshabalala - a man supplying a golden moment that was still not enough.
But the tournament moves on and Poland can at least comfort itself by playing mein host. Chopin Airport is full of people making the trip to their next match. A group of English TV techs in official-looking polo shirts talk about how they managed to watch BBC TV via the internet. "Have I Got News For You" was supposedly a classic episode on Friday.
The flight to Poznan is tinged with green since the region of Wielkepolksa's biggest city will host the Republic of Ireland's first game in a major championship final for ten years -- also its first in a Euro since 1988. Twenty thousand Irishmen are expected in Poznan. On the way to the stadium, a winnebago with Irish number plates sits beside us at a traffic lights; Dublin and Poznan are 1553.36 kilometers apart, so it's clear that its passengers have undertaken a long, red-eyed drive. Outside the stadium, a fully grown man is dressed as an Eire-shirt-clad potato. It seems he is advertising snacks.
Ireland's hordes are visiting a city rather different to Warsaw. It is lower-slung, a large-market town of typical Central European style. Its 'Old Town' is baroque yet its newer reaches look distinctly Euro-surburban. There seems far more room to breathe in Poznan than in the sometimes cramped streets of Warsaw, where congestion is not helped by the unfinished masonry that litters much of the capital city's central business district. Poznan, by comparison looks more complete and better planned.
Whereas Warsaw's Central Station is an eyesore from the old communist days and was completed in time for the visit of Soviet Union General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev in 1975, Poznan has a spanking new and glass-fronted station to welcome the many travelers making their way in on Poland's labyrinthine train lines.
It's clear that The city is keen to make an impression. As well as offering a tour of "the technological monuments of Wielkepolksa", the hotel provides me with a guidebook that proclaims Poznanians to be "frugal, hard-working and well-organised". They may well need to be all of those qualities when welcoming Ireland's unique party atmosphere to their city.
And Poznan has a famous fan. None other than Giovanni Trapattoni.
"I have known Poland, for many years," he said before leading his team out to a storm-interrupted final Saturday night training session in the Municipal Stadium, the only Polish stadium not to be purpose-built. "I have known Poland for many years. I came here with many important clubs such as Juventus."
"Some months ago, we saw the stadiums and saw lots of work to be carried out, but they guaranteed that it would be finished on time. As I know Poles, I had no doubt about it and they really performed in a fantastic way."
An Italian-Irish-Polish alliance is being struck in West-Central Poland.