Soccer-Big numbers, small expectations for Dutch and Polish fans

  • Football
  • Saturday, 15 Jun 2024

HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Polish and Dutch fans were streaming across Germany's borders by car, bus and train for their opening Euro 2024 clash - even though major player absences have rained on their parade.

Special trains were laid on from Poland's capital Warsaw, stopping at four other towns, before heading to the north German city of Hamburg for Sunday's Group D clash. The journey was easier for some fans, given Germany's vast Polish diaspora.

"I don't have a ticket - but I had to be here!," said red-and-white-clad Jakub Kowalczyk, 33, who works in Berlin as a driver and had taken a train to Hamburg to enjoy the party atmosphere.

On Germany's other flank, traffic jams were building on the Dutch border, local media reported, as some 40,000 "Oranje" fans headed over, only a third with tickets. One caravan leaving the city of Hardenberg on Friday had 75 cars together.

"The conquerors are coming! Hamburg will be a sea of orange," enthused Lucas Bakker, 20, an early arrival with friends in one of their parents' cars.

"We had no chance of affording to go to Qatar for the last World Cup - so now we're happy we can just drive here and share the fuel cost."

Despite their passion and large numbers, both sets of fans know their teams are not among the favourites to win the trophy and are realistic about their chances given injury setbacks.

Poland's feared striker Robert Lewandowski is out of the Netherlands game due to a hamstring injury, adding to concerns from a lacklustre qualification campaign where they only squeezed through on penalties via a playoff with Wales.

"We're going to have to improve very fast - and I'm not sure who we have left to score for us," said Bakker. "But this is Poland, we are fighters. And the Dutch know that."

Sadly for the Netherlands, their playmaker Frenkie de Jong has been ruled out of the tournament with an ankle injury.

But fans were at least buoyed by recent 4-0 wins in friendlies against Iceland and Canada.

"We're playing good lately, and we have some very good other midfielders," said Henk van Beek, speaking from an orange-coloured 1980 double-decker bus he co-owns with other fans as he led the caravan from Hardenberg over the border.

"We should win against Poland."

(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Additional reporting by Anita Kobylinska in Gdansk; Stephanie van den Berg and Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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