Boasting brilliant attacking players who ply their trades in some of the top European league, this Polish side is drawing rave reviews back home—the locals haven’t been this excited about their national team since Zbigniew Boniek and his cohorts reached the semifinals of the 1982 World Cup in Spain. More than a few pundits are picking them as their dark-horse favourites, and why not? With Robert Lewandowski in top form, and a solid supporting cast, Poland might just be the surprise team of the tournament.
Goalkeepers: Artur Boruc (AFC Bournemouth), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City), Wojciech Szczesny (Roma).
Defenders: Thiago Cionek (Palermo), Kamil Glik (Torino), Artur Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warsaw), Michal Pazdan (Legia Warsaw), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund), Bartosz Salamon (Cagliari), Jakub Wawrzyniak (Lechia Gdansk).
Midfielders: Jakub Blaszczykowski (Fiorentina), Kamil Grosicki (Rennes), Tomasz Jodlowiec (Legia Warsaw), Bartosz Kapustka (Cracovia), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla), Karol Linetty (Lech Poznan), Krzysztof Maczynski (Wisla Krakow), Slawomir Peszko (Lechia Gdansk), Filip Starzynski (Zaglebie Lubin), Piotr Zielinski (Empoli).
Forwards: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Ajax), Mariusz Stepinski (Ruch Chorzow).
A former midfielder who played for Poland at the 1978 World Cup Adam Nawalka coached top clubs in the Polish league and served as an assistant for a year under Leo Beenhakker with the national team. Noted to be quite the disciplinarian, he was hired as Poland manager in 2013 and led his country through a successful qualifying campaign that will see the Poles play in their third consecutive European Championship.
4-2-3-1: (GK) Fabianski – (D) Wawrzyniak, Pazdan, Glik, Piszczek – (M) Zielinski, Krychowiak – (M) Grosicki, Milik, Blaszczykowski – (F) Lewandowski
MORE ON EURO 2016: Sportsnet has you covered with in-depth coverage of Euro 2016 in France, which runs from June 10 to July 10.
GROUP C SCHEDULE
June 12: vs. Northern Ireland in Bordeaux
June 16: vs. Germany in Saint-Denis
June 21 vs. Ukraine in Marseille
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
It wasn’t easy for the Poles, as they battled it out in an ultra-competitive group that included Germany, Ireland and Scotland—a mere seven points separated first-place Germany from fourth-place Scotland. Poland earned a famous 2-0 win over the Germans and fought them tooth and nail for top spot, before eventually settling for second place and an automatic berth courtesy of a 2-1 win over Ireland in Warsaw in the final round.
This team can score, as evidenced by its 33 goals in the qualifiers. Yes, 15 of those came against Gibraltar, but Poland also scored against the top three teams in their group, including putting four past Germany in their two games. In Robert Lewandowski, the Poles have one of the best strikers in the world, and he’s supported by a cast of solid attacking midfielders.
Defence is a bit of an issue for Poland, who gave up 10 goals in 10 qualifying games. Of the teams who qualified automatically without having to go through the playoffs, only the Czech Republic conceded more goals (14). Left fullback is a problem area, with Jakub Wawrzyniak filling in for the injured Maciej Rybus (who himself was a fill in), and centre-back Kamil Glik doesn’t have a partner that matches his quality.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Robert Lewandowski: A world-class forward, the Bayern Munich star and Polish captain was the top goal scorer in the qualifiers when he tallied 13 times. You can’t overstate how hugely important he is for the national team.
Jakub Blaszczykowski: A creative playmaker who adds a bit of class to this Polish side with his inventive play on the right wing. He has a deft touch on the ball, and isn’t afraid to take on defenders one-on-one.
Arkadiusz Milik: Can play either as an attacking midfielder or a striker who has formed a potent partnership with Lewandowski. Scored six goals and added six assists for Poland during the qualifiers.
Can they come good on the big stage? There’s a fair bit of hype surrounding this Polish team after their solid qualifying campaign, which included a noteworthy win over Germany. But the Poles have disappointed in recent times, failing to advance beyond the group stage in each of their last four major tournaments, including two World Cups appearances, and Euro 2012 when they co-hosted with Ukraine. It’s time to put up or shut up.
PROSPECTS IN FRANCE
Poland has the talent, quality, depth and self-belief to not only get out of its group, but also make a bit of a run in the knockout round. A quarterfinal appearance wouldn’t be a shocker at all. An opening win over Northern Ireland would set the table nicely for their second match, a return affair against Germany. Poland proved they could go toe-to-toe with the World champions in the qualifiers—there’s no reason why they can’t challenge them for top spot in their group in France. Another group stage exit doesn’t appear to be on the cards.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast (featuring Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop, John Molinaro and James Sharman) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues.