‘Nothing in Poland is simple’: Polish cup final preview: Zagłębie Lubin vs Zawisza Bydgoszcz

Stadion narodowy

Poland’s ultra-modern National Stadium during Euro2012. The stadium will host next weekend’s Polish Cup final

In a new guest post on Rightbankwarsaw we welcome Michał Rygiel to preview next weekend’s Polish cup final between Zagłębie Lubin and Zawisza Bydgoszcz.  The final will be played for the first time at the National Stadium in Warsaw.  Unfortunately what should be a memorable event has been overshadowed by off the pitch issues.  The floor is yours Michał.

In less than a week from now, Zagłębie Lubin will play their most important and prestigious game since 2007 and the Champions League qualification duel with Steaua Bucharest. Although it’s not a clash for a place in the biggest European club competition it’s still a very important game. The ‘Miedziowi’ (The Coppermen) are in a Polish Cup final again.

On May 2nd Zagłębie will take on their friend club Zawisza Bydgoszcz – in their first appearance in a final since 2006. Almost eight years ago a squad that would win the Polish title the following year lost the second leg to Wisła Płock and were defeated 6-3 on aggregate. In 2005 the Lubin based club had also made it all the way to the final – the first time they had reached this stage in the club’s history. They came short then too, losing 2-1 on aggregate to Dyskobolia Grodzisk Wielkopolski.

After these two failures at the last hurdle, Zagłębie are determined to make the third time the charm. They definitely had the easier road to the Warsaw final, as their strongest opponent, Piast Gliwice, came in the first round. Zagłębie survived a thriller, winning on penalties. After that win, the team led by Orest Lenczyk managed to beat second tier GKS Tychy in a fashion that was far from convincing. Their next opponents were also second tier sides – Sandecja Nowy Sącz and Arka Gdynia who were just too weak for the Miedziowi. Truth be told, the road to the final should have been more difficult. Ruch Chorzów were abysmal before the appointment of Jan Kocian – losing to Arka and the biggest threat to Zagłębie’s run, Lech Poznań, were shockingly beaten by Miedź Legnica. In the other part of the cup’s ladder, Legia and Wisła lost before spring came.

Lubin’s opponent – Zawisza – had a lot more difficult journey to complete in order to reach the first final in the club’s history. Of the five opponents they had to play, three were from the Ekstraklasa, including the always dangerous Pogoń Szczecin, the revelation of the fall – Górnik Zabrze – and the unpredictable Jagiellonia Białystok.

The two teams split their season series in the Ekstraklasa, with each making the most of ‘homefield advantage’. In September Zawisza easily beat the then absolutely atrocious Zagłębie by a score of two-nil. Lenczyk’s team were almost in complete control in the return leg, putting the game to bed with three goals, to which the Bydgoszcz based team could only respond through Michał Masłowski’s great shot.

With Zagłębie currently in a relegation fight and Zawisza earning a safe spot in the top eight, the team led by Ryszard Tarasiewicz seem to be the favourites. Both teams had big games before making the trip to the National Stadium in Warsaw. Zagłębie faced their biggest foes – Śląsk Wrocław in the third Lower Silesian derby of the season while Zawisza took on the reigning champions and Ekstraklasa leaders – Legia Warszawa.  In the end both sides lost their weekend fixtures.

In terms of team news – Lenczyk has almost everyone available and definitely will make the most of it by trying to win his first Polish Cup in a managerial career which stretches over 40 years. The only absence for Zagłębie is Łukasz Piątek who collected his second yellow card in the return leg of the semifinals – something that results in an unfortunate suspension.  Zawisza will be without their main creator and one of the best players in the league – Michał Masłowski. Herold Goulon, the big French midfielder and Paweł Abbott are also out with injuries, whereas the fate of defender Paweł Strąk is still unknown.

So everything seems to be fine, with two good teams that are friendly towards each other and dedicated fanbases preparing to make it a final to remember. Unfortunately nothing in Poland is simple.  First of all, Zawisza and Zagłębie are not really ‘hot’ teams in terms of popularity. Their fanbases are based mostly in their own cities and provinces. Had Legia and Lech been playing instead, the final envisioned by most fans, the game would receive much more media coverage.

Secondly, Zawisza fans are boycotting the most important game in the club’s history because they’re unable to settle their differences with club owner Radosław Osuch. Their so called ‘hardcore fans’ decided to announce that they would be boycotting the match and, as Zagłębie are a friend club of Zawisza their own hardcore have similarly announced they will be staying at home as well. Current reports suggest that only 9-10 thousand tickets have been sold. That’s almost a sixth of the national stadium’s capacity. This is quite frankly ridiculous given the entry prices set by the Polish FA. A child or a student can get a ticket for the final for as little as 10 PLN (£2). This is three times less than a ticket for the Zagłębie – Legia game that took place two weeks ago!

As a Zagłebie fan I’d love to come to such an event and it just makes me sad that these groups can’t forget their differences for such an important game. They can do whatever the hell they want when league matches come, that’s fine by me. But an occasion of this magnitude might not repeat itself for at least another couple of years, or perhaps an awful lot longer than that. Polish FA president Zbigniew Boniek says that the game will look like a Champions League final and though this might be an exaggeration, it’s definitely an event not to be missed. Too bad some people have decided to stick so doggedly to their principles and miss it on purpose. I hope the players will make them feel a tiny bit foolish and we’ll see a great game, hopefully won by Zagłębie.

Many thanks to Michał, you can follow him on Twitter here and check out his excellent blog here.  The match will take place on Friday 2 May at 18:30 CET (17:30 GMT).

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