JOURNEY TO POLAND/UKRAINE
On June 8 2012, Poland will open the 14th European Championship in the Warsaw National Stadium against Greece, in front of nearly 60,000 fervent home supporters. The lowest-ranked team in the tournament – 33rd in Europe and 68th in the world, behind Panama and the Cape Verde islands and Uzbekistan - Poland will desperately want to give a good account of themselves against the 2004 champions, who will also find it difficult to advance from Group A.
Naturally, being the co-hosts, Poland did not have to qualify and thus haven’t experienced a competitive match for some time. Various friendlies against opposition from all over the globe paint a pretty scattered picture; they have beaten Ivory Coast and Argentina, held Germany to a draw, but lost to Lithunia and Italy.
“We have made mistakes,” said head coach Franciszek Smuda during a recent rallying call, “but that happenings in friendlies – we will only be 100% ready in May 2012. We’ve met big team and, in most cases we didn’t feel inferior. The players gained belief that they can perform during the finals. We are heading in the right direction.”
Poland were not always the relative football minnows that they are today. They reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1974 and 1982 thanks to the exploits of Grzegorz Lato and Zbigniew Boniek. However, their first appearance at a European Championship finals was in Euro 2008 and they finished bottom of their group.
The current Polish team’s main strength is that they are young, enthusiastic and very eager to impress. Their style of counter-attacking football may leave the more ageing teams flat-footed and in Robert Lewandowski they have a genuine goal-scoring threat. A win at UEFA EURO 2012‘s opening match may see them through to the quarter-finals, any further, though, and things are likely to become unstuck.
HOW THEY GOT THERE
Qualified as hosts.
HOME AND AWAY KITS
GROUP FIXTURES – GROUP A
Friday, 08/06 – Poland v Greece (Warsaw, 17:00)
Tuesday, 12/06 – Poland v Russia (Warsaw, 19:45)
Saturday, 16/06 – Czech Republic v Poland (Wroclaw, 19:45)
Goalkeepers: Wojciech Szczęsny (Arsenal FC), Przemysław Tytoń (PSV Eindhoven), Grzegorz Sandomierski (KRC Genk).
Defenders: Sebastian Boenisch (SV Werder Bremen), Marcin Kamiński (KKS Lech Poznań), Damien Perquis (FC Sochaux-Montbéliard), Łukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund), Marcin Wasilewski (RSC Anderlecht), Jakub Wawrzyniak (Legia Warszawa), Grzegorz Wojtkowiak (KKS Lech Poznań).
Midfielders: Jakub Błaszczykowski (Borussia Dortmund), Dariusz Dudka (AJ Auxerre), Kamil Grosicki (Sivasspor), Adam Matuszczyk (Fortuna Düsseldorf 1895), Adrian Mierzejewski (Trabzonspor AŞ), Rafal Murawski (KKS Lech Poznań), Eugen Polanski (1. FSV Mainz), Ludovic Obraniak (FC Girondins de Bordeaux), Maciej Rybus (FC Terek Grozny), Rafał Wolski (Legia Warszawa).
Forwards: Paweł Brożek (Celtic FC), Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund), Artur Sobiech (Hannover 96).
THE CAPTAIN – JAKUB BLASZCZYKOWSKI
Jakub Blaszczykowski or ‘Kuba’ as he is referred to in the Bundesliga, is a fairly young national team captain at 26, nevertheless, he is a commanding presence in the middle of the park . He was voted Polish Footballer of the Year in 2008 and 2012, and was also voted the Borussia Dortmund Player of the Year by the fans in 2008, ahead of Neven Subotic and Alexander Frei.
THE KEEPER – WOJCIECH SZCZENSY
Wojciech Szczesny has gently ousted his countryman Lukasz Fabianski from the number one jersey at Arsenal and a series of steady performances have solidified him as the Gunners’ main man between the sticks. He is only 22, has tremendous agility and awareness, and a brutish command of his area for someone so young. You just hope his lack of experience doesn’t cost him this summer.
STAR MAN – ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI
After winning a regular starting place alongside his captain, Jakub Blaszczykowski, in the title-winning Borussia Dortmund side of 2010-11, Robert Lewandowski is the new darling of Polish football. A 23-year-old forward with genuine eye for chance, Lewandowski represents Poland’s chief goal-threat on home soil this summer. In the 2-2 friendly draw with Germany in September last year, his instinctive, 55th-minute opener gave an indication of his predatory potential. His current international scoring record is very decent, a goal every three games, but he’ll need to better that for success in the finals.
THE MANAGER – FRANCISZEK SMUDA
Franciszek Smuda spent most of his playing career in the MLS, but returned to his home country after a 16-year hiatus in 1993 to coach Stal Mielec. He then led Widzew Lodz to two consecutive domestic titles and into the Champions League, and also won the title with Wisla Krakow and the Polish Cup with Lech Poznan. He was asked to coach the national team after their failed to qualify for the World Cup 2010 and has bravely put his faith in the young Borussia Dortmund contingent.
Quarter-Finals – The White Eagles will hope that the home advantage will drive them on, and as we have seen with previous hosts, the fans can act as the clichéd 12th man. If Lewandowski can keep up his fine form and others step up to the plate, a second round finish is surely not beyond them.