Population: 38,600,000
Area: 312,685 km²
Capital: Warsaw
Language: Polish

Poland battled with England for the top spot in UEFA group 6, but lost out in the end. However, the Poles took enough points on their way to qualify as one of the best runners-up.
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Mar 01 Poland v USA 0-1
Mar 28 Saudi Arabia v Poland 1-2
May 02 Poland v Lithuania 0-1
May 14 Poland v Faroe Islands 4-0
May 30 Poland v Colombia 1-2
Jun 03 Croatia v Poland 0-1

Participations: (6) 1938, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986 and 2002
Best placing: Third place 1974 and 1982
Topscorer: Grzegorz Lato, 10 goals
More detailed history information

Jun 09 - POL v ECU  in Gelsenkirchen
Jun 14 - POL v GER  in Dortmund
Jun 20 - POL v CRC  in Hannover

- Poland in Group A -
Jan Alsos: 2nd place
Pierre Boisrond: 3rd place
Ruud Doevendans: 3rd place
Mike Gibbons: 3rd place
Peter Goldstein: 2nd place
Paul Marcuccitti: 2nd place
Felipe Santos: 2nd place


by Mike Gibbons

    It is difficult for any nation – Hungary are one other obvious example – to hit the heights reached by previous generations. From 1972-82 Poland were one of the best teams anywhere in the world, announcing their arrival by winning the Olympic title in Munich in 1972 and then going on to finish third in the World Cups of 1974 and 1982. An impressive legacy for so small a country but, unless you are the likes of a Brazil or an Italy, the fat years are always followed by several lean ones. A 4-0 hiding from Brazil that knocked them out of Mexico 86 consigned the Poles to a 16 year stretch without qualifying for a tournament until the 2002 Finals in Japan/Korea, which they reached after landing an easy qualifying group. The finals however exposed their shortcomings and they made their exit, with minimum fuss, after the first phase.

    After failing to qualify for Euro 2004 it did appear that their return to tournament football might have been a one off but the Poles have made it to Germany after winning eight of their ten qualifiers (their only defeats were to group winners England) and taking one of the two automatic runners-up places in the UEFA zone.

    The draw in the eyes of most observers has been kind to Poland by virtue of also being kind to Germany, whom Poland will face in Group A. The Poles play the second game of the tournament, against Ecuador in Gelsenkirchen, and the coach Pawel Janas, a star of the 1982 team, believes the South Americans to be the main obstacle to Poland advancing into the knockout rounds. They will play Germany in Dortmund on the 14th, which could be a pivotal night for both teams, before finishing their programme against Costa Rica in Hanover on the 20th June. Beyond that could be Sweden, Paraguay or old foes England in the second round, which is about as far as many pundits think Poland can go. It might seem absurd to criticise a team that scored 27 qualifying goals for lack of a cutting edge, but Poland don’t look to have the quality up front that could help them achieve anything beyond that. What they would give for the inspiration of a Boniek, Lato or Deyna right now.

    Two of Poland’s key players will at least be familiar with their surroundings. Jacek Kryzynowek is the star man of the team in central midfield and plays his club football with Bayer Leverkusen, although has been limited in appearances this season. The fantastically named Euzebiusz ‘Ebi’ Smolarek has been a revelation at Borussia Dortmund this season and is the clubs leading scorer, and can play wide in midfield are up front.

    Two of the Polish forwards likely to be in the squad are currently struggling along for teams in the English Championship, the division one below the Premiership. Tomasz Frankowski has made little impact at Wolverhampton Wanderers after a transfer window move from Elche in Spain, but did score seven goals in qualifying, including a hat-trick in an 8-0 hiding of Azerbaijan. Grzegorz Rasiak is a likely back-up and is looking to find form at Southampton after failing to impress with Tottenham Hotspur. Another striking option is Andzej Niedzielan of NEC Nijmegen in Holland who has been scoring regularly at club level. Lukasz Sosin, a late addition to the squad who recently scored twice in a friendly with Saudi Arabia, is also making a late push for selection.

    Also scorer of seven qualifying goals, Maciej Zurawski of Celtic is likely to partner Frankowski after a high-scoring season with the soon-to-be Scottish champions. His club colleague Artur Boruc will be looking to hold on to his place as goalkeeper, which is becoming increasingly likely with the ongoing inactivity of Jerzy Dudek. The Liverpool goalkeeper has lost his club place despite being the hero of Liverpool’s penalty shoot-out victory over AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final.

    In front of whichever goalkeeper gets the nod to start will be Jacek Bak, an experienced defender now 33 years old and playing out his days in Qatar. Another veteran, Tomasz Klos, is now playing back in Poland and will be pushing for a place, as will fellow thirty plus defenders Michal Zewlakow of Anderlecht and Tomasz Rzasa of Den Haag. A veritable spring chicken in the Polish defence who will turn 29 during the tournament, Marcin Baszczynski plays with Klos at Wisla Krakow and should start at the back.

    In midfield the responsibility of playmaker is likely to fall to Miroslaw Szymkowiak of Trabzonspor, and outside of him Jacek Kryzynowek will be looking to attack from the wing, but like Dudek has suffered from a lack of opportunities at club level this season with Bayer Leverkusen. Another likely option is Sebastian Mila of FK Austria Memphis, leaders of the Austrian Bundesliga, where he plays with Arkadiusz Radomski who is also on the fringes of the Polish squad.

    Whether Poland can make up for their 2002 performance is debatable. Inexperienced and overwhelmed four years ago, they lost to South Korea and Portugal in quick succession and were one of the first teams to be on the plane home. Even a last game victory over the USA, eventual quarter-finalists, could not ease the gloom of what was a fairly disastrous campaign. Much of the current squad were around then, so at least have the experience of a previous World Cup to guide them, however painful it was.

    One man unlikely to make it is Emmanuel Olisadebe, who transferred to Portsmouth in January but has only played a couple of games as he is, as he has been since the last World Cup, constantly battling a series of injuries. The hero of the qualifying campaign for 2002, the naturalised Nigerian could have made a difference where it counts most. In his likely absence, and in deed the absence of any real quality in the forward positions, this World Cup in Germany could be another brief encounter for Poland.




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