On a rainy and depressing night in Warsaw big-time football is back on the banks of the Vistula. The summer brought us rare positivity from Poles regarding their ability to organise a successful European event but at the same time disappointment that their team could not get through the group stages and, unfortunately in the end not even win a single game. Poland finally has the chance to make up for the failure of the summer (for their national team anyway) with the visit of the once-mighty England to their resplendent national stadium. So how do Poles rate their chances tonight? Have any new stars arose in the last couple of months? And can they overcome the inconsistent English?
Poles don’t seem to be very hopeful about tonight’s result which is not very surprising taking into account the litany of failures over the last twenty or so years. Poles are still waiting for a team capable of competing on the world stage in the same way that the likes of Boniek, Lato and others did from the end of the seventies to the mid-1980s. A radio report on the match tonight asked passers-by for their opinions about the big encounter, one diplomatic response declared ‘It could be a win, it could be a draw and it could be a loss.’ Nice and definitive there. To end the segment the radio presenter did his best to prepare Poles for the disappointment which England victory would bring ‘Don’t worry it it all goes wrong tonight’ he stated ‘we were successful in the Taekwando a couple of weeks back.’ Indeed Polish footballing opinion seems to be shocked at the positive opinions of England players regarding the strengths of their national side. The famous Polish football blogger Michal Zachodny responded in a tweet to Joe Hart’s statement that the Polish team was blessed with belief at the moment with: ‘Is Hart trying to be funny or what?! Belief?!’ So expectations being low for tonight seems to be an understatement.
Is it really so bad though? The bad news for Poland is their inspirational captain Jakub ‘Kuba’ Blaszczykowski will not be stepping out with the team tonight due to a recent injury. This has however inadvertently led the new manager Waldemar Fornalik to experiment with the team and he just might have come up with a couple of gems as a result. Fornalik put out a very inexperienced side in the friendly against South Africa on Friday night. The two bright sparks in this game were the winger replacing ‘Kuba’, Pawel Wszolek (English pronunciation Fshowek) and 22 year old defensive midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak (Kryhoviak). These bright sparks suggest it might not be as bad as people are making out. Krychowiak is a dominating midfielder who has been a revelation in the French ligue 1 with the newly promoted Stade De Reims. Expect him to start and offer tough resistance in the centre of the park against England tonight. However it is Wszolek who really caught the eye on Friday as indeed he has since the Polish Ekstraklasa (their top league) kicked off in August.
Wszolek has cut a dashing figure for his club Polonia Warsaw in the opening weeks of the season. Wszolek, at only 20 years old, is a livewire of creativity, enthusiasm and energy. Indeed it is this energy in the main that has driven Polonia to overcome almost going out of business in the summer. His pace, strength and ability to create and score goals have been a breath of fresh air and he also seems to be a level-headed young man with colleagues saying he has ‘nerves of steel’ and ‘knows no fear’. He certainly showed these qualities in Friday’s debut for the national team. He tore the South African defence apart at times with his direct running and his precise deliveries from the left and right almost led to four goals in the first half. Well they would have if his Polish striking colleagues hadn’t fluffed the chances. Anyway, Fornalik had seen enough in the performance to take Wszolek off at half time to save him for the clash against England. I may be bigging the chap up a little too much here but if he doesn’t step up to the plate tonight he nevertheless seems to have a bright future in the game and I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops.
As for the result itself, it’s pretty difficult to call. England have been shaken by poor performances against Ukraine and San Marino and the reverberations of the John Terry saga. I think I’ll go for the nice safe prediction of a goal-scoring entertaining draw. And hopefully for Wszolek to shine.