Polish champions Wisla Krakow will look to be the first Polish team to qualify for the Champions League group stage since 1996. Wisla took the Ekstraklasa last season in what was truthfully, a very poor year for all teams, but are still confident of being able to make a run through qualifying. Dutch coach Robert Maaskant has brought Western standards to the team and may finally be able to change the mentality of Polish players who so often succumb to media pressure. Luckily, Wisla has a strong base of foreign players and will be led by some of last seasons great signings Maor Melikson and Cwetan Genkow. Most recently the club brought back Junior Diaz on loan from Club Brugge, which will be a great addition to the White Star’s defense.
Wisla should power through Latvian champion Skonto Riga, their opponent in the second qualifying round, anything less would be a major disappointment and humiliation. After that it is up to the luck of the draw, but I have confidence this Wisla side will advance at least to the final qualifying round. Final prediction though, look for the Polish champions to parachute in to the Europa League.
Slask Wroclaw were the surprise of last season’s spring round as they stormed the table to finish as vice-champions. This has given them the right to start qualifying for the Europa League from the second qualifying round. They take on Scottish side Dundee United in a rematch of their 1980 UEFA Cup tie, won by the Scots 7:2 on aggregate. Slask also have the advantage of being one of the few Polish teams who did not conduct a fire-sale of their best players after a successful season. Veteran Sebastian Mila and defender Przemyslaw Kazmierczak will lead the Poles, and Slask will hope new signing Johan Voskamp from Sparta Rotterdam adds in a few tidy goals. He scored 51 in 65 appearances for the Dutch side.
Slask I think have the highest chance of qualifying for the Europa League group stage of all the teams. A solid playing unit led by experienced manager Orest Lenczyk, they are the most likely to emulate the run made by Lech Poznan in last season’s edition of the tournament. Slask would also be a wonderful ambassadors for Euro 2012 as they will play in the brand new stadium built in Wroclaw for the upcoming championships.
Starting their campaign in the third qualifying round will be Polish Cup winner Legia Warszawa. Legia had an extremely poor season by their standards and were lucky to finish third. They ultimately kept coach Maciej Skorza even after very public flirtations with replacement managers, and surely the team will be playing for Skorza’s job just as much as for advancement. An early exit will almost definitely ensure a vacancy in the capital cities main teams coaching post. So far in preseason Legia have failed to impress, most recently losing to 2. Bundesliga side MSV Duisburg 1:3. They have a decent squad and added experienced defender Michal Zewlakow to their books who has vast European playing time from his time with both Anderlecht and Olympiakos.
My prediction is that Legia may get through one round of qualifying, but they’ll have to hope for a kind draw if they want to see themselves playing in the group stages of the Europa League.
If the leaves start changing colors, and you notice a slight chill in the air, take a look to see if their are any Polish clubs left European competitions. If you don’t see any, fall is here.