Tonight Poland play in Frankfurt against Germany in an important Euro 2016 qualifying match. 41 years ago, Kazimierz Górski’s wonder-team also played in Frankfurt against West Germany in a match which would decide who would make it to the 1974 World Cup final. In the famous ‘water-match’ (Mecz na wodzie in Polish), Poland fought hard but in the end went down to a 1-0 defeat, meaning that West Germany would face The Netherlands in the World Cup Final. Currently Adam Nawałka’s Poland sit atop their qualifying group, and they famously defeated Germany last October. Suddenly big things are expected of Poland, but how good are the 2015 Poland vintage? To find out I decided to compare the Polish starting line-ups of that match in 1974 and the one that will probably represent the country tonight. Join me in the world of bad historical comparisons.
Poland 1974 (4-3-3)
GK Jan Tomaszewski
DF Antoni Szymanowski
DF Jerzy Gorgoń
DF Władisław Żmuda
DF Adam Musiał
MD Kazimierz Deyna
MD Henryk Kasperczak
MD Zygmunt Maszczyk
FW Grzegorz Lato
FW Robert Gadocha
FW Jan Domarski
Poland 2015 (4-3-3)
GK Łukasz Fabiański
DF Łukasz Piszczek
DF Kamil Glik
DF Łukasz Szukała
DF Maciej Rybus
MF Karol Linetty
MF Grzegorz Krychowiak
MF Krzystof Mączyński
FW Arkadiusz Milik
FW Kamil Grosicki
FW Robert Lewandowski
Goalkeepers: Jan Tomaszewski vs Łukasz Fabiański
Although Łukasz Fabiański is having a great season with Swansea City and is a decent keeper, there can only be one winner in this contest. Jan Tomaszewski was the scourge of England in the October 1973 match which took Poland through to the 1974 World Cup, and he continued his good form into the finals. His stand-out game was against Sweden in the second round group stage when he saved a penalty allowing Poland to beat the Scandinavians. In addition to great shot-stopping and an imposing physical presence, Tomaszewski possessed a strong (if at times eccentric) character which made him one of the key figures in the 1974 side.
Result: Tomaszewski wins and won’t shut up about it
Tomaszewski after the famous match at Wembley in October 1973
Left-back: Adam Musiał vs Maciej Rybus
Again it’s difficult to see any other winner than the left back from the 1974 side. Musiał was a solid trusted defender who backed up the adventurous attackers further up the pitch. Despite the stability he provided, Musiał was dropped unceremoniously by Górski before the aforementioned Sweden game in an attempt to shake up the side, he was however back in favour by the time of the West Germany match. Normally a left-winger, Rybus will be used by Nawałka due to a lack of other left-footed defensive options. In truth left-back is one of Poland’s problem positions with little exciting players currently coming through.
Result: Adam Musiał wins easily
Right-back: Antoni Szymanowski vs Łukasz Piszczek
This is a much closer contest. Indeed there are many similarities in the abilities of the two right-backs. In stark contrast to Musiał, Szymanowski loved to maraud up the pitch and set up Poland’s attacks at the 1974 World Cup. He made up a great team with Poland’s lightening-fast right-winger cum forward Grzegorz Lato. In many ways Piszczek is a present-day Szymanowski, equally comfortable in defence and attack, Piszczek has played at the top level with Borussia Dortmund for many years. I’m calling this one a draw.
Result: A scintillating score draw
Centre-back: Jerzy Gorgoń vs Kamil Glik
Gorgoń vs Glik is a close-run thing. Gorgoń was absolutely central to Poland’s 1972 Olympic Gold-winning side and the 1974 side in West Germany. Strong in the tackle, dominant in the air, he could at times however go missing positionally. Glik possesses many of the qualities that Gorgoń did – in that he’s a tough, no-nonsense defender who has become a rock for the national team and his club side Torino. Difficult to call but I’m going with another draw.
Result: A blood and thunder tussle ending 1-1
Kamil Glik celebrating a goal for Poland
Centre-back: Władysław Żmuda vs Łukasz Szukała
Łukasz Szukała hasn’t got a chance against the Polish defensive legend Władysław Żmuda. Żmuda was called up to the Polish squad for the 1974 World Cup relatively late in the day as Kazimierz Górski looked for a suitable partner for Gorgoń. In the finals Żmuda hardly put a foot wrong with some imperious performances, also playing impressively for Poland at the 1978 and 1982 World Cup finals. Szukała is a decent defender, but would probably not even be starting if it wasn’t for an injury to Legia Warsaw’s Michał Pazdan.
Result: Żmuda triumphs without breaking a sweat
Central midfielder: Kazimierz Deyna vs Karol Linetty
Karol Linetty is probably Poland’s finest young prospect. The Lech Poznań midfielder is able to put in a tackle, spread play and, more recently, weigh in with some important goals. Despite all this Deyna is the obvious winner here. Deyna was a footballing maestro, able to turn a match with a turn here, a sway there, a great pass or a lightening shot from distance. Perhaps Poland’s greatest ever player it’s slightly unfair to compare Linetty to the genius that was Deyna, but hopefully Linetty will be a mainstay for the Polish national side for years to come.
Result: Deyna shimmies his way to the victory
Deyna taking on Dino Zoff in the 1974 World Cup
Central midfielder: Henryk Kasperczak vs Grzegorz Krychowiak
Another close battle. Stal Mielec’s Henryk Kasperczak was central to so much of what Poland achieved at the 1974 World Cup. Equally at ease at breaking up attacks as setting them up, his calm and poise allowed Poland the base from which to dominate matches. Grzegorz Krychowiak on the other hand is rapidly building a reputation as one of Europe’s best central midfielders. Rather more defensive on the whole than Kasperczak, Krychowiak is strong in the tackle and economical with the ball. He is also comfortable in important games, both with Poland and his club Sevilla.
Result: A pleasant to watch score draw
Zygmunt Maszczyk vs Krzysztof Mączyński
This is another case of the 1974 vintage winning out. Zygmunt Maszczyk was a key figure in Poland’s Olympic triumph in 1972 and at the World Cup. Maszczyk was a tireless worker who, like Kasperczak, broke up opponent’s attacks and was calm on the ball. Mączyński is also a player who does the simple things well, and has impressed during several of Poland’s Euro 2016 qualifying matches – but, until he performs in a big international tournament, he cannot come close to the achievements of Maszczyk.
Result: An easy victory for Maszczyk
Robert Gadocha vs Arkadiusz Milik
Legia Warsaw’s Robert Gadocha was quite simply a scintillating footballer. When he got the ball opponents were never quite sure about what he was going to do next – his skills perplexed defenders so much they often ended up on the floor. Gadocha was also responsible for taking corners and free-kicks (along with Deyna) for the 1974 Polish side. Arkadiusz Milik has shown in his performances for the national side that he has what it takes to be a top-class international footballer. Possessed with a superb left foot, his finishing from distance is often excellent. Despite this he has a long way to go to reach the level of Gadocha.
Result: Gadocha’s trickery leaves Milik on his rear end
Grzegorz Lato vs Kamil Grosicki
Not even close this one. Grzegorz Lato was one of the revelations of the 1974 World Cup – coming away with the golden boot after scoring seven goals. But it wasn’t just his goals that made Lato great, possessed with unerring pace and an incredible engine, Lato often seemed to be everywhere on the pitch – he was a force of nature. Kamil Grosicki on the other hand is a key figure in the Polish national side in 2015. Grosicki, like Lato, is also blessed with great pace, however his decision-making process at times lets him down.
Result: Lato sprints away with the victory
Jan Domarski vs Robert Lewandowski
The one position where the 2015 side comes out on top. Jan Domarski was a very talented attacker who famously scored the goal vs England which took Poland to the 1974 World Cup finals. Despite this he only played against West Germany in Frankfurt due to an injury to Andrzej Szarmach (who in turn replaced the injured Włodzimierz Lubański). In contrast Robert Lewandowski is at the absolute peak of his career – playing for perhaps the strongest club side in the world Bayern Munich. Lewandowski is an international household name and the player other countries most fear in the Polish line-up. His international form often however does not match up to his performances for Bayern – something which leads to ire from Polish supporters.
Result: Lewandowski scores a hat-trick past Domarski’s flailing grasp
A player who might just get into the 1974 side, Robert Lewandowski
Kazimierz Górski vs Adam Nawałka
Kazimierz Górski led Poland to Olympic and World Cup success and is one of the most revered figures in the history of Polish football and sport in general. A modest and humble man, he also possessed a sharp footballing brain and was prepared to take risks to achieve great things. Nawałka has done an excellent job since he took the Polish national job in October 2013, managing to create a sense of togetherness and sacrifice that his predecessors could only dream of. Despite this, a long road lies ahead of Nawałka if he’s ever going to be mentioned in the same breath as Kazimierz Górski.
Result: Górski pats Nawałka on the head and sends him off to fetch the training kit
The late, great Kazimierz Górski
Final result: Poland 1974 7, Poland 2015 1
So there you go, the 1974 side unsurprisingly easily came out on top. I hope you’ve enjoyed this historical comparison. Poland’s 2015 vintage may well have great things ahead of it, but for the moment Rightbankwarsaw is crossing its fingers for qualification for Euro 2016. After that, who knows?