Police upped their numbers in Warsaw Tuesday as Poland prepared to play old foe Russia in a must-win Euro 2012 match on home turf, amid what authorities have dubbed their "greatest ever" security challenge.
Centuries of bad blood and suspicion between the two countries, coupled with pockets of fans on both sides with a reputation for violence, are stoking fears that brawls could erupt even before kick-off.
Poland's interior minister Jacek Cichocki confirmed the upped police presence in Warsaw, having previously described the security operation as the "greatest-ever challenge for law and order forces in the capital".
Some 6,000 policemen are on duty in the capital for the duration of the tournament and Poland's Euro 2012 organisers have said that 9,800 Russian and 29,300 Polish fans had Tuesday match tickets.
Officers in central Warsaw were flagging down cars looking for banned items like weapons and flares and running identity checks on passengers, as well as fans in the street, AFP reporters said.
But Russian fans who began pouring into the Polish capital insisted the security issue was being blown out of proportion.
"We won't be provoking anything," said Svetoslaw Sorokine, 33, who travelled 48 hours by train from Yoshkar-Ola, a city 800 kilometres (500 miles) east of Moscow for the match.
"Our supporters come in a spirit of peace to support our team, not to play politics," he added.
Fellow fan Ilya Koulikov, a Moscow-native, said fears of clashes among fans were being "fuelled by the media who are stoking the fire. People have come for the football."
Polish media played up the tense history of the old foes, with the centre-left daily Gazeta Wyborcza resorting to military language.
"It won't be a simple march across Warsaw, alas, but massive air raids against the Polish net," the newspaper said. "Above all, we must survive this match."
In a march that will itself make history, thousands of Russian fans are set to cross a central Warsaw bridge to the brand-new National Stadium for the Group A fixture on what also happens to be the visitors' national day.
Russians have not walked in such numbers in Warsaw since the end of World War II.
Russia come into the game on a high after thumping the Czech Republic 4-1 in their first game but Poland drew 1-1 with Greece, making a win a must for the Euro 2012 co-hosts if they are to go through to the last eight.
On a more positive note, Russia and Poland fans were due to play a friendly game and fans from both sides on Monday came together to lay wreaths honouring Poles and Russians killed in World War II.
"I've got just one hope: that supporters from both sides create a beautiful atmosphere in this grand stadium," Poland's PZPN football chief Grzegorz Lato told a news conference at the match venue on Monday.
"There's certainly a very difficult game ahead of us. Russia isn't just the group favourite but also a team which is aiming very high at the championships.
"They made an excellent impression against the Czechs but you can't play at the same level twice," insisted Poland's former star striker on the eve of the match.
Since the the championships kicked-off last Friday, Russia fans in Poland have already had brushes with both the law and UEFA.
European football's governing body is looking at allegations that some Russia fans racially abused Czech player Theodor Gebre Selassie.
It is also taking disciplinary action after fans lit and threw fireworks and displayed potentially inflammatory "Russian Empire" flags at the game.
So far, two Russia fans have been slapped with a two-year stadium ban in Poland, four face brawling charges and several others are wanted by police on suspicion of beating up several volunteer stadium stewards after the Czech Republic match.
Five Poles, five Croats and one Irishman were fined for a brawl in Poznan, western Poland, before Croatia's 3-1 victory against the Republic of Ireland on Sunday night.© ANP/AFP