In the run-up to this year’s European Championship, Sports Mole is assessing the chances of a Polish team that has survived the qualification process well.
With a team built around the current World Footballer of the Year, the prospects are up Poland emerged from a finely balanced group this summer Euro 2020 can be seen as more than useful.
During the tactical tinkering of the wildcard trainer Paulo Sousa was able to hinder rather than help his protégés as they advance into the host’s fourth continental championship in 2012, his Polish squad, which consists of leagues across Europe, is blessed with several experienced professionals and a dash of flair.
Consider one of the strongest goalkeeping trios in the tournament and a handful of young talent – including the teenage tyro Kacper Kozlowski, RB Salzburg-bound defender Kamil Piatkowski and Brightons Jakub Moder – and a team with some potential can be confident that it will make it into the last 16.
The Poles will certainly be determined to continue their recently improved record in UEFA’s flagship international event after failing to finish their two third places in a World Cup finals – so all eyes will be on a man who is alone as the The largest of the eagles.
Though talisman Robert Lewandowski nearing the end of his career, he is now perfectly positioned to finally make a name for himself in a major international championship, possibly his last tournament for a football-loving nation.
While Spain with home advantage is the undisputed favorite – even in the middle of a renovation phase Luis Enrique – Poland and Sweden, who seem to be a good match, are expected to fight for the pair in the top two.
Despite their experience – and a few younger players with some potential – Slovakia are considered underdogs, so beating their neighbors in the opening game is almost essential if Poland want to make it to the round of 16.
So much could be at stake if they return to St. Petersburg, where they face the Swedes in what may be a crucial fixture on June 23.
14th June: Poland vs. Slovakia (5 p.m., Krestovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg)
June 19th: Spain vs. Poland (8 p.m., La Cartuja Stadium, Seville)
23rd June: Sweden vs. Poland (5 p.m., Krestovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg)
HOW YOU WERE QUALIFIED
Poland opened their qualifying tour positively with a 1-0 win over Austria in Vienna, followed by a 2-0 win over Latvia in their own country.
From then on, even a wobble in the middle of the campaign couldn’t stop the Eagles from climbing to the top of Group G, which also featured North Macedonia, Israel and Slovenia.
Last October, former manager Jerzy Brzeczeks team secured their spot in the main event this summer by beating Macedonians 2-0 when Slovenia lost to Austria at home. Poland thus continued as group winners and, after decades of previous failure, recorded their fourth participation in a row (one of them without qualification as they were hosts).
Although Brzeczek led his nation to the finals as desired, he was substituted off shortly thereafter, which was no surprise to those who noted his players’ lack of public support but may have been harsh treatment given how calm his team was on her Heading towards.
Although this was not a very successful experience, the recent Nations League games in the top division A Poland have offered plenty of opportunities to compete against high-profile opponents.
Together with Italy, Bosnia and the Netherlands in one of the toughest groups in the competition, the Eagles struggled when games resumed last November. After the 2-0 defeat against a disused Italian team and a subsequent setback against the Dutch at home, they finished third – enough to survive in the “top” of Europe’s new international competition.
Since the new coach Paulo Sousa took the reins in hand, he has experimented with various personal and tactical setups – he often prefers the counterattack – but in the first World Cup qualifiers Poland only took one point from their encounters with main rivals Hungary and England; defeat Andorra 3-0 in between.
They drew both Russia and Iceland in their post-season friendlies earlier this month, making it one of the finals with their only win in seven games against humble Andorra.
Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski (West Ham), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus), Lukasz Skorupski (Bologna)
Defender: Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Pawel Dawidowicz (Verona), Kamil Glik (Benevento), Michal Helik (Barnsley), Tomasz Kedziora (Dynamo Kiev), Kamil Piatkowski (Rakow Czestochowa), Tymoteusz Puchacz (Lech Poznan), Maciej Rybus (Moscow locomotive)
Midfield player: Przemyslaw Frankowski (Chicago fire), Kamil Jozwiak (Derby), Mateusz Klich (Leeds), Kacper Kozlowski (Pogon Stettin), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Moscow locomotive), Karol Linetty (Torino), Jakub Moder (Brighton), Przemyslaw Placheta (Norwich City), Piotr Zielinski (Naples)
Forward: Dawid Kownacki (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Marseille), Karol Swiderski (PAOK), Jakub Swierczok (Piast Gleiwitz)
STAR PLAYER – Robert Lewandowski
At the height of his strength, the current FIFA Player of the Year will meet almost all the Poles’ expectations this summer after another sensational season with the perennial German champions Bayern Munich. Chattering in 41 league goals in just 29 games until the break Gerd MüllerAfter his long-time league record, Lewandowski is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
The elegant striker, Poland’s captain, player with the highest national team and the best shooter of all time, is perhaps the deadliest predator in football – he has dominated the Bundesliga scorer list since he came to Borussia Dortmund from Lech Posen in 2010 for a bargain of £ 340,000 .
Of course, ‘Lewy’ is his nation’s top scorer in qualifying with six goals, but he has yet to score in a grand final; I still need a goal to catch up with the former Dortmund colleague Jakub Błaszczykowski as Poland’s best European Championship scorer of all time with three goals.
However, as he ages, the Warsaw-born striker seems to get even better and now wants to use one of his last chances to shine at international level.
MANAGER – Paulo Sousa
Although the unpopular predecessor Jerzy Brzeczek steered Poland through the qualification, he was replaced in January by an elusive coach traveler who previously represented Portugal in midfield at both the Euro ’96 and Euro 2000.
After his more glorious days as a member of the much-vaunted “golden generation” of his country, a varied coaching career took him to positions in England, Hungary, Israel, Switzerland, Italy, China and France. However, the former Juventus and Borussia Dortmund midfielder has never headed a national team and has never worked in Poland.
Apparently given the opportunity to lead a nation of 38 million football fans through his work at Fiorentina – which he led to fifth place in Serie A about five years ago – there is still a lot for Sousa to prove Opening the results were overwhelming.
Surely his résumé would be greatly brightened by a run into the final stages of this summer’s main event as his Polish side, contrary to expectations, tries to mimic previous glories.
RECORD OF THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP
Best finish: Quarter Finals (2016)
Since the EM first took place in 1960, Poland has been absent more often than at present, despite its historical importance on the world stage – and by a considerable margin.
In fact, it took the Poles a total of 48 years to finally qualify before they managed to visit five World Cup finals and win gold at the Olympics.
Overall, Poland missed twelve continental championships before the long-awaited first qualification in 2008: a final in which they finished last in the group stage, which they disappointingly repeated four years later as co-hosts.
Their third straight attempt at Euro 2016, however, turned out to be by far the best as the Eagles took their first win – against Northern Ireland – and made it to the quarter-finals before losing on penalties to eventual champions Portugal.
Although lacking in some areas, Poland can draw on several strengths, including Piotr Zielinski as head of the creative department and the irreplaceable Robert Lewandowski who kicks the ball into the net.
A group that is anything but impossible, in which three nations behind hot favorites Spain fit well together, means that the Eagles can at least finish as one of the best third-placed finishers and advance to the round of 16.
This is where the adventure likely ends, however, as their likely knockout opponents have more rounded squads – especially since coach Paulo Sousa’s preferred style of play still needs time to fully settle in.
JUDGMENT: Last 16