Legia Warsaw 0 v 2 Lazio (28.11.2013)
If Champions League spots were awarded for passionate fans then Legia Warsaw would be top seeds! Now that’s an interesting concept for entering Europe’s premier footballing competition!
4 months previous, and ahead of Legia’s Champions League 3rd qualifying round 2nd leg tie against Steaua Bucharest, the Żyleta unveiled an impressive, colourful and well choreographed tifo. The passionate display turned out to be a protest against Europe’s governing body UEFA for imposing a part stadium closure for one of the most crucial games in Legia’s recent history. The closure imposed as a result of racist behaviour of ‘some’ supporters during earlier Champions League qualifiers against TNS and Molde.
That night the Żyleta’s usual home – the north stand was closed. But the clubs famous ultras had the last laugh as they took over the opposite end of the ground and unveiled a tifo that read: Ultra Extreme Fanatical Atmosphere (UEFA) and then proceeded to go ‘flare-tastic’ as they set the whole end alight with pyrotechnics to create a stunning visual display.
It must have been a ‘double edged sword’ of a night. On the one hand you had the ultras demonstration against UEFA, but on the other the club surely desperate to reach UEFA’s own Promised Land of Champions League football for the first time since 1995/96.
A valuable draw and ‘that’ psychological bonus of an away goal out in Bucharest seemed to have put Legia in the driving seat for the 2nd leg tie. Unfortunately the tifo that night didn’t ignite the same passion in Legia’s players, and ironically Steaua raced into a 2 nil lead inside 9 minutes! Despite getting back to level terms, Legia had frustratingly fallen at the final hurdle and Steaua sneaked through on the away goals rule.
Whilst UEFA were no doubt happy with the result – they hit Legia back with a two finger salute of their own – this time imposing a complete stadium ban on the clubs fans for their opening Europa League tie against Apollon Limassol for the use of pyrotechnics!
It’s the Europa League group stage that I make my 2nd appearance at the Stadion Wojska Polskiego. Drawn in a group with Lazio, Trabzonspor and Apollon Limassol this seemed a reasonable group for the Polish champions – surely a realistic chance of progressing to the knock out stages and the chance to put Polish football on the European map.
Despite being one of the most attractive group games on paper (to me anyway!), Legia had so far endured a disastrous run in the Europa League which had unfortunately taken the edge off this fixture. That’s the risk you take when you book up a trip before a Europa League ball has been kicked!
Going into match day 5, Legia were effectively now making up the numbers. With 4 defeats from their previous 4 group games and with no goals scored, Legia were playing for little more than pride and the chance to derail Lazio’s target of winning the group outright.
Even a drop in ticket prices (£11 for a seat behind the goal) wasn’t even enough to entice a crowd of more than 12,00. This was made up predominantly from the loyal Żyleta in the north stand and a splattering of fans in the rest of the stadium. The attendance was 120 lower than it would have been though, as Lazio fans were arrested before kick off for stoning and bottling police. The resulting arrest revealing a hoard of knives and hammers in possession by said fans, so perhaps wider violence was prevented that evening, although I doubt they would have sneaked that armoury past the security cordon!
The illuminated Stadion Wojska Polskiego…or Pepsi Arena!
Despite the lower than average gate, the Legia ultras – or Żyleta – were still unbelievably impressive on the night. Rarely will you see such dedicated and unquestionable support for a team that on the European stage had quite frankly failed to deliver. They sang, chanted, bounced and bellowed for the entire 90 minutes. Not once did you hear the faintest moan, boo or whistle come from the Zyleta towards their team, despite what Jan Urban (the Legia coach) described post match as his teams worst European performance of the season.
None of this plastic “stand up for the champions” nonsense you hear in England, where those very same fans will then be heard ‘booing’ if their team happen to go in 1-0 down at half time! No, these fans stand up regardless, proper supporters united en mass with their undying support for their team. So strong in unity were the Żyleta behind their team that Lazio coach Vladimir Petkovic called for them to return with his team to Rome and stand on the Curva Nord at the Stadio Olimpico. High praise indeed for a visiting manager to openly praise the opposing fans in his post match press conference!
Unfortunately the Legia performance didn’t come close to matching that of the Żyleta’s. Although both teams started the match with 4-5-1 formations, Lazio made the game look like one of those training ground drills where the attacking team has 3-4 more players than the defending team, such was their dominance in every area of the field!
Lazio got the breakthrough their dominance deserved on 24’ following a well taken headed goal from Colombian born striker Brayan Perea.
With goal scoring opportunities few and far between Legia’s best chance to cause Lazio some defensive problems was through set pieces. Now there a fewer things in professional football that frustrate me more than a player hitting the first man from the delivery of a set piece. Legia must have been trying to wind me up big time, as despite this being their most likely source of creating a goal scoring chance, time and time again they failed to miss the first defender on delivery of literally every corner or free kick in the attacking third!
Legia were consistently poor in possession too, and even at the times they had opportunities to counter attack they had very few options to play the forward pass. More often than not the only option available was to play the ball out wide to the creative but extremely isolated Radovic, by which time Lazio regained their shape and quashed any threat.
Lazio wrapped the game up early on in the second half, Felipe Anderson scoring on 56’ with a well taken low drive from the edge of the box.
The game finished up 2-0, and the defeat leaves Legia bottom of the group with a record reading: played 5, lost 5, and scored 0. Next morning and the headlines weren’t kind on Legia. “One step from embarrassment” was the headline in Polish sports paper ‘Przeglad Sportowy’. If Legia lose their final group game away in Cyprus at Apollon Limassol it will be the worst record in the competitions history! Nine games back to back without a win since the CL 2nd qualifying stage marks a European run to forget.
Based on this showing though it’s highly likely that unwanted record will arrive at Legia’s door. They will need to quickly erase this European nightmare from the memory, and direct their focus onto retaining the Polish Ekstraklasa title for the first time in nineteen years, and then ready themselves for another shot at making it to the Champions League.
One things for sure the Żyleta deserve their time in the spotlight!!
Obtaining tickets for Polish football has become trickier in recent years. Overseas fans will need to visit the ticket office and present an identification document in order to purchase one. The identification document will then be needed to gain access through the turnstiles on match day.
Getting to the Ground:
The nearest metro station is Politechnika (3 stops from the Centrum). On exiting the station you can catch a number of buses (I caught the 143, but there are 2 or 3 others to) down ‘Aleja Armii Ludowej’ road to the Stadion Wolska Polskiego. The journey takes 5-10 minutes depending on traffic.
Even the Women’s Volleyball draws a passionate crowd and an unexpected tifo at Legionowo v Sopot in the Polish Premier League!