Shattered Poland reflect on another failure

Famous last-gasp defeats are a Polish tradition, whether in war or football, so there was little surprise at a loss to the Czech Republic that dumped them out of the Euro 2012 finals they have dreamed of holding for years.

It was not the defeat that hurt but the tame way Franciszek Smuda's players - in stark contrast to their rousing comeback against Russia days earlier - went quietly into the night.

After a hatful of chances in the first 15 minutes, they managed just three shots in the second half of what was billed as their biggest game in 30 years.

"Coach Smuda and his players called this the most important game of their lives. We didn't see that on the pitch," columnist Rafal Stec wrote in national broadsheet Gazeta Wyborcza.

"If Smuda's players had fought a desperate, emotion-packed battle with the Czechs but not been able to last to the end, we would have greeted them, even rewarded them, with applause and a common bearing of the pain."

Two decades of toil has given Poles prosperity most could never have imagined under communism but football has not rewarded them in kind.

The 1970s and '80s golden generation that produced Grzegorz Lato and Zbigniew Boniek has given way to a succession of average squads that have struggled to win games at major finals, never mind get out of the group.

That failure has fuelled the doubters in the country's post-1989 liberal revolution, who said something had gone awry with the national character along the way.

There is a belief that Poles are too busy thinking about their own interests to unite for a common good and reaching the quarter-finals would have done much to counter that idea.

"After every defeat, I promise myself I will never fall for it again and I will not believe in the success of the national team," leftist politician Andrzej Rozenek told TVN television after the game. "It is a cup of cold water for us all."


Moaning at each other is a national pastime too, and captain Jakub Blaszczykowski launched the recriminations with the revelation that players were kept on tenterhooks over whether their families would get any tickets for Saturday's game.

He also said Smuda, who announced immediately after the game that his contract would not be renewed, had gone too quickly and other commentators paid tribute to the coach, saying he remained the best Poland has.

The captain's ire was instead saved for Lato, a winner of the World Cup Golden Boot in 1974 and now the head of a much-criticised FA that still harks back to communist times.

"If we want to head in the direction of professionalism, if we want our football to look like it does in other countries, we have to take examples from the best," Blaszczykowski said.

"The FA president says in interviews that he has a good relationship with the team. I personally am not aware of that, because every time we establish something with him it completely is not held to. Many things are not done as they should be."

As late as noon on matchday, Blaszczykowski said, the players were still asking whether they would get tickets for the game before they were finally given two each.

"This has no meaning at all for what happened today. But the