History: Polish soccer hit its apex in the 1970s and early 1980s. They reached the World Cup semifinals in 1974 and 1982. They also won gold at the 1972 Olympics and Silver in 1976, while taking advantage of Communist policies to field their full national team. They briefly resurged in the late aughts, qualifying for the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008.
Qualification: Poland is one of the Euro 2012 hosts and qualified automatically. They have not played a competitive match since Oct. 2009. Poland rebuilt the squad after a botched 2010 qualifying campaign. The new lot took a while to bed in, though in the past year the Poles have beaten Argentina and earned draws with Mexico, Germany and Portugal.
Coach: Poland’s coach is 63-year-old Pole Franciszek Smuda. The longtime Polish League manager has won three titles with Widzew Lodz and Wisla Krakow. He also bounced around NASL as a player in the 1970s, appearing for Hartford, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Jose.
Squad: The Bundesliga’s preeminent team is back to back champion Borussia Dortmund. Three of their best players are Polish. Forward Robert Lewandowski had a breakout year, scoring 30 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions. Jakub Blaszczykowski or “Kuba” is an adept playmaker on the wing. They also have Lukasz Piszczek, who might have been Europe’s best right back. The rest of the squad is not that imposing, except for goalkeeper where Poland features Arsenal’s top two keepers Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski.
Tactics: Poland played an ambitious 4-3-3 and got hammered 6-0 by Spain early in Smuda’s tenure. Don’t expect much ambition. Smuda should play a disciplined 4-2-3-1 and try to hit teams on the counterattack. It’s the ideal strategy for a limited squad. It’s also a strategy the Dortmund stars are used to executing at club level.
Home Sweet Home: Home nations traditionally have an enormous advantage in the Euros. In 14 out of 15 tournaments, the host has reached at least the semifinal. The exception was Austria/Switzerland in 2008. That said, only one has reached the final (Portugal 2004) in the last six tournaments. The last host winner was France in 1984.
What Could Have Been: German World Cup stars Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski were born in Poland and had Polish eligibility.
Fun Fact: The Legislature (Sejm) in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the 16th to the 18th century had a “liberum veto” where any single member of parliament could stop debate and veto passed legislation. It didn’t work so well.
Prognosis: Poland will shoot for the knockout stages. Riding a wave of national sentiment and in an unimposing group (Russia, Czech Republic, Greece), that ambition is entirely reasonable.
[Photo via Presswire]
Group A: Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, Russia
Group B: Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal
Group C: Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Spain
Group D: England, France, Sweden, Ukraine
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