Thousands pay tribute to failed Poland side
A day after Poland's heartbreaking exit from the European Championship, thousands of supporters packed a fan zone in the country's capital to pay tribute to the team's efforts.
The sprawling space in front of the towering Palace of Culture was once again a sea of red and white. Scarves swirled as chants of ''Polska, Polska'' echoed across the city. The players took to a stage to acknowledge the cheering fans for 10 minutes, waving at them and filming them.
Poland captain Jakub Blaszczykowski praised the country's fans for their unwavering support.
''We know we could have played better,'' Blaszczykowski said at the fan zone. ''We want to thank all our fans for the faith that they have shown in the Polish national team. We want to thank you for supporting us so well, no matter if we win, lose or draw.''
The players then walked towards their team bus, stopping and signings autographs for fans they passed on the way.
Euro 2012 co-host Poland was eliminated from the tournament on Saturday after a 1-0 defeat against the Czech Republic.
Many fans were dejected after the result, but the mood quickly turned to national and patriotic pride in central Warsaw as the night went on. Hundreds of fans chanted and took over a main street, blocking traffic while playing a spontaneous match of football. The ball was pinged off passing cars to the bemusement of diners sitting on sidewalk terraces and ended up being kicked onto a rooftop before dawn started to break.
Polish fans took a special liking to Greece supporters and embraced some of them, after the 2004 champion advanced to the quarterfinals at the expense of Russia with a 1-0 win. Poland and Russia, who share a bitter history, played out a 1-1 draw Tuesday at the National Stadium, a match overshadowed by hooligan violence between fans from both countries.
It was replays of Blaszczykowski's goal against Russia, shown on a big screen above the stage, that brought emotional cheers from the crowd.
On Sunday, striker Robert Lewandowski was also on hand at the fan zone and called on the crowd to ''stay with us. We know we can play better in the future.''
Supporters hoped for a better performance from the national side in future tournaments and were confident Poland had a strong chance to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
''This was the fourth big tournament in 12 years and every time, we don't make it out of the group,'' fan Pawel Chaber said. ''We trust that, for the World Cup (in Brazil), we will be better and we will play better.''
Poles are adamant they will still be following the remainder of the tournament, despite their side going out in the first round without a win. Poland finished bottom of Group A with just two points from three matches.
It appears that many Poles have adopted the Czech Republic as their team for the rest of the tournament. Thousands of Polish fans attended a training session for the Czech side that was open to the public Sunday, applauding every goal the side scored.
''I think there will still be a massive interest in what happens next in the football,'' fan Pawel Murawski said. ''And I hope that nations all over the world see Warsaw, see Poland and want to come here. They will see it is a nice place.''