Poland ready to shine again

by Jakub Krzyzostaniak

Since 2002, when the Polish national team started qualifying for tournaments again after a 16-year pause, there has been the usual hype of expectations before the crushing downfall of reality.

World Cups in 2002 and 2006 and the country’s first European championship appearance in 2008 all ended with a group stage exit. Poland haven’t played a competitive match since 2009, when their disastrous World Cup 2010 qualification campaign came to an end. But there is a quiet confidence in the country that Franciszek Smuda’s squad could advance from a favorable group.

Starting in the back, the Poles (as always) have a solid pair of hands in Arsenal goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny. Though he is one of the youngest members of the squad, Szczesny has proven to have a very strong mental character and the confidence of a keeper 10 years his senior. PSV Eindhoven’s Przemyslaw Tyton is a more than capable replacement with Szczesny’s Arsenal teammate Lukasz Fabianski rounding up the position.

In defense, the Poles will have to hope the couple weeks before the tournament are enough to gel a defensive unit which hasn’t spent much time playing together. The star of the group is Borussia Dortmund’s marauding right-back Lukasz Piszczek, who many claim, is equal to, if not better, than Dani Alves. The experienced Marcin Wasilewski will anchor the center of defense, likely with French-born Damien Perquis of Sochaux, who is finishing his recovery from a broken elbow. On the left either Jakub Wawrzyniak or Sebastian Boenisch will get the nod, with Boenisch being a favorite of Smuda’s, while Wawrzyniak is most recently famous for his slip in stoppage time which allowed Germany to equalize during a friendly. Any injuries to this group could be catastrophic for the Polish team, whose backups are mainly young players, or players with experience in the Polish Ekstraklasa.

The midfield is one of Poland’s strongest points currently. Led by captain Jakub Blaszczykowski (another of the Polish Borussia Dortmund contingent) the Poles have a fast group perfect for the counter-attacking style Smuda would like to see from his squad. Bordeaux’s Ludovic Obraniak adds a touch of creativity while Legia Warsaw’s 19-year old Rafal Wolski could make his mark in a super-sub role after a breakout season in Poland.

But all of this will be likely in vain if not for Poland’s star front man, Robert Lewandowski. The Borussia Dortmund star had a breakout season with the Bundesliga outfit scoring 22 league goals as they secured a league and cup double. Lewandowski goes in to the tournament as Poland’s only in-form striker. Artur Sobiech and Pawel Brozek will provide support, but should Lewandowski get injured, the Poles would be in serious trouble having to depend on those two.

Overall, the team will rely heavily on its trio of Borussia players as well as a few other key players who ply their trade outside of Poland. Advancement from the group would be viewed as a success, so while there is pressure on this team, it is nothing like the expectation of having to win the whole tournament. Get out of the group, and anything after that would be an amazing bonus. Playing at home with the amazing support of Polish fans behind them, it should spur on this team to achieve something that Poland hasn’t had since 1982: a team to be proud of at a major tournament.

 Likely line-up vs. Greece:

Szczesny; Piszczek, Wasilewski, Perquis, Boenisch; Murawski, Dudka; Blaszczykowski, Obraniak, Rybus; Lewandowski

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