As one of the absentees from this summer’s World Cup, Poland are firmly focused on the 2012 European Championships that they will co-host with Ukraine. Ed Diggins travelled to Ciechanow to get the thoughts of international midfielder Lukasz Mierzejewski.
When Giovanni Trappatoni announced his Ireland squad for the upcoming friendlies in preparation for the Euro 2012 qualifiers, it included seven new caps, each hopeful of making the impact required to be on the plane to Armenia in August.
Further east, one of the host nations for that event, Poland, are undergoing a similar revolution as they look to build a squad capable of doing a huge footballing nation proud on their own soil.
If you were to take a look at the current Polish squad, it would become very clear that they are team building for both the immediate and long term future. Very few players have caps entering double figures, and most of the old-guard has moved on.
Speaking exclusively to BackPageFootball.com, Poland’s latest international Lukasz Mierzejewski tells us what it is like to be involved right now and what this tournament could mean for the people of his homeland.
“Euro 2012, it’s a huge event for which Poland is a host,” says the 28 year old Cracovia midfielder.
“Every player taking part in it would like to perform as best as they can. It is a huge honor for every one of them.
“For the Polish nation, to be given the chance to host this is a huge success for us and for sure it will be beneficial to the country.
“People from all over the world will be given a chance to learn more about Poland and Polish people. I think that we will be received in a positive way.”
Mierzejewski now has three caps to his name, all coming in the past three months under new coach Franciszek Smuda.
Indeed Smuda seems to have been well received so far by the fans, his new regime seen by many as a breath of fresh air. The players agree too.
“I think that it is a good approach, it is important to look into the future,” says Mierzejewski.
“The coach Franciszek Smuda is choosing the best players that are present and on form, at any given moment.
“As far as expectations for the team are concerned, I believe in him. I think that he will cope with the task and Poland will play nice football.”
Looking at things from a personal point of view, Mierzejewski feels that playing for Poland is what dreams are made of.
Walking out on the field in the national jersey for the first time is a moment he will treasure for the rest of his life. The sense of national pride in Poland is bigger than most.
“It was a huge honor for me and I will not hide that I am really proud to be able to represent my country in the senior squad,” he says.
“My family is proud of me as well. To make a first appearance in the national team is both a huge honor and stressful moment, but also a positive and motivating one.
“It’s hard to judge myself, I think I played well but I believe that I can play even better.”
Mierzejewski realises, however, that a long, hard road lies ahead if he is to make the illustrious squad.
Form waits for nobody, not in the current environment.
“First of all I would like to take part in that tournament as a player representing my country however I realise that I have to stand out in my league club in order to be taken into account,” he says.
Indeed Cracovia form a fierce rivalry with Wisla Krakow and it is games like this that help to catch the eye.
“The derby game brings additional emotions and tension. In the last round we won but in this one we drew. The team and the fans are happy with that’.
“The position in the table changes with every game but we are in the lower part of it. The situation in the club is satisfying however; in September our new stadium is going to be opened.
“It is a club with tradition and history, the oldest club in Poland, but also with huge potential and bright future.”
Making your international debut at 28 may seem late to most, however Mierzejewski has served his time in the jersey at all levels.
He was part of an extremely successful underage set-up in Poland at the beginning of the last decade.
A number of players from this era now make up the core of the current senior team, including Manchester United keeper Tomasz Kuszczak.
“I represented Poland in the U-16 team and during that period we were runners-up in the European Championship,” he says, remembering the time fondly.
“Two years later, while playing in U-18 team we became Champions of Europe.
“The best memories are every success with national youth team and of course, now the debut in the senior team.
“In the youth team I played against players who now play in good European clubs like Petr Cech or Pepe Reina.”
Indeed, he rates the pair of goalkeepers as the best two players he has faced in his career so far.
It is now time to look forward however and the question being asked is can Mierzejewski and his teammates help turn one European success into another one, this time on the big stage?
The team is hungry to succeed, so are the people. In two years time, when the Polish team walks out in front of their own fans, there will be a sense of hope, a sense of expectation and a huge feeling of national pride.
Playing in front of your own people in a major tournament, is something that only few experience, once in a lifetime.
Others can only dream.
Right now, Lukasz Mierzejewski and his teammates are doing everything they can to make that dream come true.