Eurorightbankwarsaw: Now or never for Poland and Lewandowski

Boniek and Nawalka

Here at Rightbankwarsaw we’ll be doing our best to cover the ins and outs of Poland’s appearance at Euro 2016 in France.  In our first installment of Eurorightbankwarsaw we look at where Poland’s national team is at the moment and argue that it really is now or never for them this summer.

It’s 11 days from the start of a tournament which could make or break this Polish generation of players.  Even though the national team is made up of players who are stars, or at least solid performers, at some of Europe’s top clubs, the team doesn’t seem be touted much by the international press.  I might be being bold here but I think the squad has everything possible to surprise a lot of people and go very far in France.  The only thing that could hold them back is Polish complexes and the fear that if they don’t do it now they’ll never do it.

Four years ago Poland disappointed hugely at the Euros that they hosted, not even being able to get out of the group stages.  In the 2014 World Cup qualifiers things also didn’t work, and they meekly failed to qualify from a campaign which had initially started impressively.  What has changed in the last couple of years?  Firstly coach Adam Nawałka has confounded those naysayers who so criticised his appointment.  Nawałka’s success has been based on several factors: firstly he has been firmly backed by the Polish FA president Zbigniew Boniek which has allowed him to focus on the task at hand.  Secondly he has been very reserved in his dealings with the media, he hardly ever gives interviews – meaning that he has avoided the mistakes of previous managers such as Waldemar Fornalik who seemed too dependent on the whims of the press and the public.  Finally he has managed to forge a sense of togetherness in the squad, which augers well for their appearances in France.

What else has changed?  Although on the pitch some players have faded (Jakub Błaszczykowski) and others have been phased out (Ludovic Obraniak), a core of excellent or at least very sound and competent players have come through.  Poland has a core of players who are certain starters at top, or decent European clubs.  In terms of the spine Poland relies on the Torino centre-back Kamil Glik, the Sevilla central midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak and possibly the best European striker at the current moment, Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski.  Kudos must also go to Nawałka for pairing Ajax striker Arkadiusz Milik with Lewandowski, the two were on fire in front of goal during the Euro qualifiers.  In addition Łukasz Piszczek is still performing well at Borussia Dortmund and Poland also have a number of talented young attacking players such as Piotr Zieliński and Cracovia’s Bartosz Kapustka.

This mixture of stars, experience and youth, along with the togetherness that Nawałka has been able to develop bodes well for the tournament.  If things go right in France Poland have the potential to reach the quarter-finals and even further (although that kind of achievement would already be in the realm of Polish dreams).  The key game is the first one against Northern Ireland in Nice on June 12.  Poland have the potential to be brittle in terms of self-confidence – at both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups they lost the first two games, leaving the final game to be meaningless.  In the first half of the opening game of Euro 2012 against Greece Poland exploded out of the blocks, and were not able to get the job done.  I fear that if Poland do not get the win against Northern Ireland all the pre-tournament enthusiasm will be dashed against the rocks.  Alternatively if they go out and perform as they can by thrashing the team from the British Isles, the sky is the limit.

There is however one big worry that hangs over the Polish squad as they go into this tournament.  Robert Lewandowski is in the form of his life, he’s playing at a great club, scoring goals for fun and is certainly Poland’s best player since Zbigniew Boniek in the 1980s.  At nearly 28 years old this should be his tournament, this should be his time.  But if things fall apart this time it’s difficult to see him still being at the absolute top of his game in two years time in Russia when he’ll nearly be 30 years old.  The eyes of the country are on him, his face stares out from thousands of billboards, dozens of articles are written about him every day in the Polish press.  He needs to go out there and show Poland that he can be mentioned in the same breath as players such as Boniek, Lato, Deyna and Lubański.  Will Lewy be able to deal with all this pressure and expectation and lead his team to glory?  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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