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Poland – Group A
Coach: Franciszek Smuda.
Squad: Wojciech Szczęsny (Arsenal), Przemysław Tytoń (PSV Eindhoven), Grzegorz Sandomierski (Jagiellonia Białystok).
Sebastian Boenisch (Werder Bremen), Marcin Kamiński (Lech Poznań), Damien Perquis (Sochaux-Montbéliard), Łukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund), Marcin Wasilewski (RSC Anderlecht), Jakub Wawrzyniak (Legia Warszawa), Grzegorz Wojtkowiak (KKS Lech Poznań).
Jakub Błaszczykowski (Borussia Dortmund), Dariusz Dudka (Auxerre), Kamil Grosicki (Sivasspor), Adam Matuszczyk (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Adrian Mierzejewski (Trabzonspor), Rafal Murawski (KKS Lech Poznań), Eugen Polanski (1. FSV Mainz), Ludovic Obraniak (Girondins de Bordeaux), Maciej Rybus (Terek Grozny), Rafał Wolski (Legia Warszawa).
Paweł Brożek (Celtic), Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund), Artur Sobiech (Hannover 96).
Likely formation: 4-2-3-1
Prediction: Group stage
Caution should be exercised when nostalgicly evoking the 1970s in reference to Eastern Europe countries, bearing in mind their controversial experience under the influence of Communism. Yet, many Poles would probably like their homecountry to have hosted the European Football Championship in that decade, marked by the Cold War and the Warsaw Pact, rather than nowadays, where boundaries have been dismantled. Being more precise, they would probably pick 1972. It was in this year that Poland won the gold medal in the Olympic football tournament thanks to the best ever generation of footballers, who subsequently earned a third place at the 1974 World Cup and led the country also to the 1978 and 1982 edition.
For those who grew up in the 1970s Poland means the saves by goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski (English fans still depict him as the villain who did not let the national team qualify for the 1974 World Cup), the pure talent of late Kazimierz Deyna, the rapidity of Grzegorz Lato, the solidity of Henryk Kasperczak and Władysław Żmuda.
They are now replaced by a group of young, inexperienced footballers coached by 64-year-old Franciszek Smuda, who decided to leave the likes of Artur Boruc and Michał Żewłakow out of the great event.
The former Wisła Kraków and Widzew Łódź outspoken manager has insisted on a 4-2-3-1 formation that has revealed virtues as well as vices. The team has lost only one out of eight friendlies in sight of the Euros, a 2-0 home defeat by Italy, and names of the other opposing sides include France, Germany and Portugal. Minimising damages and endeavouring the opponents’ offensive potential appear to be the furthest point Poland can reach, though, especially by scanning statistics of recent matches.
Smuda’s players conceded nine goals in just 10 games, while they did not go beyond 11 goals scored, and these data are anything but encouraging. However, it may be relevant to remind the names of these opponents, doubtless the èlite of European football.
As Smuda himself has admitted, this national team has no stars. Probably, emulating the deeds of the golden generation of the 1970s and, above all, the great achievements of then manager Kazimierz Górski is all pie in the sky. Smuda is absolutely aware of these limits and has focused on building team-spirit. Certainly, there are some players who might help Poland to breakthrough.
Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczęsny is one of them. Aged 22, he is just back from his first season as first-choice goalkeeper, in which he significantly contributed to the fundamental qualification for the Champions League. The young goalie has shined also as international, the performance in the 2-2 draw against Germany being considered the turning point of his career with the national team. Much pressure will be on him as home fans hope to see Poland advancing through the group stage.
Responsibility will be shared with other key footballers who play abroad. The second big name is striker Robert Lewandowski, whose 22 goals in the Bundesliga led Borussia Dortmund to win the national title. Since he will be the only centre-forward in the lineup, assists delivered by the triade of attacking midfielders behind him will make the difference. Dortmund’s and captain Jakub Błaszczykowski, Trabzonspor’s Adrian Mierzejewski and, above all, Bordeaux’s Ludovic Obraniak will be those ordered to adequately feed Poland’s main source of goals.
Defence and midfield are the two departments where Smuda has to work hardest. Throughout the friendlies he has seldom fielded the same back four and, above all, he has openly criticised the nation’s centre-backs. He has also wished to provide class elegible defenders with a Polish passport, as FourFourTwo reported, and perhaps this is the reason Sochaux centre-back Damien Perquis has been naturalised less than one year ago, thanks to his Polish ancestors.
Secondly, as rearguard has been rattling and front line appears to be more reliable, the duo of defensive midfielders – probably Dariusz Dudka and Rafal Murawski – will have to play as a bridge between the two departments.
On a plus side, Poland have been given a really soft group stage for their second consecutive and ever European participation. Czech Republic, Greece and Russia are tackling opponents but not so hard to be overcome.
From this perspective, the home support which will be expectedly backing the players might be decisive in reaching the last 8. Aiming to be optimist, this is perhaps the greatest achievement the Poles can get from this tournament.