Polish pundits see Adam Nawalka’s boys as a potential dark horse and having Robert Lewandowski certainly boosts their chances. He scored one of his country’s two goals as the Euro 2012 co-hosts crashed out, bottom of their group, four years ago. Now they’re looking to seal a spot in the last eight.
Lesson from qualifying
Support Lewandowski, reap the benefits. Operating with a more attacking line-up allowed the Bayern Munich man to show his cutting edge. Beating Germany for the first time also helped to make the campaign memorable.
Goals – a whopping 33 of them in 10 qualifying games. Their No.9 can’t miss, it seems, and partner Arkadiusz Milik recently equalled Luis Suarez’s record for scoring in six consecutive Eredivisie games at Ajax.
The Poles are vulnerable at the back. Cagliari’s Bartosz Salamon is their most in-form defender, but he’s inexperienced.
Most likely to...
Give Germany coach Joachim Löw more sleepless nights, with the two countries set to clash again at the Stade de France.
Least likely to…
Keep a clean sheet. Apart from that 2-0 win over Germany, their only qualifying shutouts came against Georgia and Gibraltar.
What they hope will happen
A nation expects a repeat of the World Cup joys of ’74 and ’82.
What will happen
Poland’s recent tournaments have had an ‘opening game’, a ‘last chance game’ and a ‘game of honour’. This year: ‘last 16’ as well.
Key player – Robert Lewandowski
The Bayern Munich hitman top-scored in qualification with 13 goals and at 27 he is now in his prime for club and country. In France, he will have the chance to prove his elite status as part of a better and more experienced squad than the one that exited at the group stage in 2012.
Manager – Adam Nawalka
A veteran of Poland’s 1978 World Cup campaign, Nawalka’s improved the atmosphere in the camp – often a problem for Poland, who tend to lose togetherness at major finals.
Q&A – Lukasz Fabianski
What are Poland’s realistic aims?
Getting out of the group. After that, I don’t think anyone would like to play Poland. Anything can happen. We beat Germany for the first time ever during qualification; once we beat the world champions, why should we fear anyone else?
After a disastrous Euro 2012 on home soil, then failing to reach the World Cup, expectations weren’t high. Why have things changed?
We came together as a unit thanks to our coach. At the same time, our key players started having important roles with their clubs and that always helps. The atmosphere is so much better than in the past.
Robert Lewandowski is the superstar, but who could be the discovery of the tournament?
The entire team, I hope! Bartosz Kapustka is a big talent, for sure, and most people know Milik.
You’ve played regular football since moving to Swansea; has that helped to build your confidence?
It’s helped a lot: I’m always ready because I have to be in top shape every week. Being lower in the table adds adrenaline and responsibility and that’s helped me to prepare for a tournament. I know how to handle pressure.
Fixtures and results
June 12, N. Ireland. Nice, midnight.
June 17, Germany. Saint-Denis, 3am.
June 21, Ukraine. Marseille, midnight.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Group D runners-up
vs Gibraltar (A) 7-0
vs Germany (H) 2-0
vs Scotland (H) 2-2
vs Georgia (A) 4-0
vs Rep. Ireland (A) 1-1
vs Georgia (H) 4-0
vs Germany (A) 1-3
vs Gibraltar (H) 8-1
vs Scotland (A) 2-2
vs Rep. Ireland (H) 2-1
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD
2008 Group stage
2012 Group stage
Words and interview Martin Harasimowicz
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