I GO HARD NOW’S UEFA EURO 2012 COVERAGE – From Success to Frustration and Hopefully Back Again: The Polish National Team
Let me start with a disclaimer: I might be the reason for all the failures the Polish national team has endured throughout the ages. You see, the last medal the Poles won came in 1992, in the Barcelona Olympics (also known as the Dream Team Olympics, I ‘spose). The Poles took the Silver home, after a long battle with the Spanish national team that featured one of my favourite FIFA players – Louis Enrique. Man, I used to destroy people with him in FIFA 98. Either way, Poland’s U23 played the Final on August 8th. I was born on September 29th. And since around that time, Polish soccer has been mostly pain. So yeah, I’m probably not responsible, I just have shitty luck.
It wasn’t always like that, though. Although Poland never won a European Championship game, they’ve had considerable success back in the 70s and 80s in the Olympics (back when they weren’t an U23 competition) and the World Cup. First, a gold medal at the infamous 1972 Olympics, then… Perhaps the most bittersweet World Cup in Polish history.
In 1974, the team from the Olympics qualified to the World Cup in truly grand fashion. The deciding game of the qualifiers came at Wembley, as the English were prepared to run circles around Poland. The game ended with a 1:1, thanks to a valiant effort by legendary goalkeeper (and current political nutjob), Jan Tomaszewski, who stopped shot after shot. In fact, after the tournament, Pele named him the greatest goalkeeper on earth. Either way, the tie granted Poles the tournament spot, kicking the English out on their legendary field. From there on, the Poles won all their games until the semi-finals, against West Germany. This night will forever live in infamy in Poland as “The Match Played on Water” (sounds much better in Polish, believe me). The stadium in Frankfurt was soaked in rain, turning the field into mud. Enough said, a fast-paced Polish attack couldn’t really get going in these conditions. That, combined with a great game from the German goalkeeper rendered Poland unable to score, while the Germans capitalized after a lucky goal. Poland went on to win the bronze medal, winning with Brazil. But nevertheless, much akin to the Tuck Rule Game, everyone was left wondering what could’ve been, had the weather not been bad.
Poland continued it’s reign of near-dominance, winning a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics, losing the gold to… The Germans, how else? These games marked something that lasts until today — Poland just cannot beat the Germans, for some reason.
Six years passed, as Poland went through a changing of the guard. Having lost in the second round in the 1978 World Cup, a new and improved Poland came out in 1982, looking for more, in a much needed time. On December 13th 1981, martial law was declared in Poland, marking the beginning of the end of communism. The stories from that time are grueling, thousands of anti-Communists arrested, tanks standing on the streets, this perhaps best presented by this photo by photographer Chris Niedenthal. The poster on the movie theater s for “Apocalypse Now!” how fitting.
Either way, with martial law still in effect, the national team couldn’t play friendlies before the World Cup Finals. The team went to Spain unprepared, and with the responsibility of distracting the entire nation from the surrounding chaos. They brought home the bronze medal yet again, this time failing to the Italians in the semi-finals, perhaps to a one game suspension for Zbigniew Boniek, who went over the yellow card limit. I mentioned Boniek specifically, since he is remembered as two things in Poland; a) The greatest Polish footballer in history b) One of the most incompetent coaches in history. So I guess that that makes him Polish football’s Michael Jordan. Either way, Boniek was not only the greatest Polish footballer, but one of the greatest footballers, period. In fact, Pele named him as one of the 100 greatest in the sport. And if that doesn’t convince you, have a look at a little montage of his highlights. Maybe that will convince you.
The rest is a history of World Cup disappointments, I suppose. Poland qualified for the World Cup only 3 times since, getting booted early every time. As for the European Championships? Poland only played in one to date (it will be two tomorrow, though). Our national team is yet to win an Euro game, in fact.
I skipped over a large part of our history. That’s because I don’t want to remember us telling ourselves that we’d be able to advance out of the group stage, or hell, that we’d even qualify, or beat the English in said qualifiers (another team the Poles are unable to win with, except for one equally legendary game in the 1974 qualifiers). Which was strange, considering Poland managed to climb up to 16th in the FIFA rankings in 2007. But that was back when we shined in the qualifiers before falling flat (almost literally, big time fatigue problems) in the Euro itself. This time, however, it’s different. Hopefully.
To tell you the truth, I’ve never been more confident about the Polish national team. Somehow, we managed to grow an elite right back in Łukasz Piszczek, an damn near elite right midfielder in Jakub Błaszczykowski (I will include an audio file with correct pronounciations of each name at the end of the post, hopefully), whom you can call “Kuba” for simplicities sake, and an up-and-coming striker in Robert Lewandowski. Add to that the legendary Polish goalkeeping school that brought up names like Jerzy Dudek and Artur Boruc, along with it’s newest member of honour, starting goalie Wojciech Szczęsny, and you have yourself quite a treat.
But, I won’t leave you with a bare note, I will do more — a player-by-player thingy! For the projected starters, that is.
Goalkeeper – Wojciech Szczęsny – Arsenal
Look, Wojtek Szczęsny is one of the best young goalies in the world. He’s long, he jumps high, and he makes miracle saves, while doing a great job of stopping breakaways, which is kind of a must for every single Polish goalkeeper in history.
Right Back – Łukasz Piszczek – Borussia Dortmund
Piszczek, despite being an elite talent, in fact so elite that he’s being wooed by Real Madrid, is pretty lucky to be here. You see, Poland had an Italianesque match selling scandal, and Piszczek had a small part in it. Granted, he was 18, and he didn’t really get anything out of it, but nevertheless, there was a threat of suspension, as he was treated as an accomplice. Luckily, the Polish Footbal Union, decided that that would be dumb as fuck.
Centre Back – Marcin Wasilewski – RSC Anderlecht
Wasilewski is a tough guy, basically. Big, strong, and capable of playing both the defensive wing and centre positions. He’s really the heart and motor of the national team, ever since he had an open leg fracture in one of his league games. As you can imagine, a comeback from that must’ve been hard… He did come back. Everyone loves Wasilewski. That’s it.
Centre Back – Damien Perquis – Sochaux
I can’t pronounce Perquis’ name properly, since I don’t speak French. Either way, this guy is French. I mean, he is of Polish descent, but nevertheless, he’s french. He’s a solid defender, and did a hell of a job learning Polish. I’m just sad that the manager of the national team decided he will only let players of Polish descent play in the National Team, all while a perhaps better defender, Manuel Arboleda, a Columbian living in Poland for the last 5 years, requested a citizenship and declared his will to play for the Polish national team. Hell, for me, Arboleda is more Polish.
Left Back - Sebastian Boenisch (probably) – Werder Bremen
Sebastian Boenisch was born in Poland, but raised in Germany, much alike German National Team strikers Lukas Podolski (who is one of the classiest players out there) and Miroslav Klose (who avoids Polish culture and thus is a douche). He’s a solid defender, although I don’t have the full scoop on him, having only seen him in friendlies. He might also be replaced by Lech Poznań defender (and 100% Pole) Grzegorz Wojtkowiak come tomorrow.
Defensive Midfielder – Rafał Murawski – Lech Poznań
This guy is basically the big help-defense dog. He’s not the most intelligent player, not the best passer, and not really a player I like. But, with an unstable defensive core, he might be worth the shot. He’ll probably be the first one subbed, though.
Defensive Midfielder – Eugen Polanski – Mainz 05
Another one of the Polish-born, German-raised group, Polanski (not related with Roman) was actually the Captain of the German youth squad, before joining the Polish senior team. He’s the more offensively skilled defensive midfielder, providing a link between the two formations. I betcha he’s gonna ring a bomb in from 20 yards in one of the games, too.
Left Midfielder – Maciej Rybus – Terek Grozny
Rybus is one of those guys with a motor stuck in their butt. He’ll run around wherever it takes, and will make up for a lack of skill with a load of dedication. However, if Franciszek Smuda will want some new looks, Rybus will join Murawski on the bench, probably.
Offensive/Centre Midfielder – Ludovic Obraniak – Bordeaux
When they want memorabilia, some people take swords, others take postcards, and some get tats. Obraniak apparently is from the last group, since he has a tattoo commemorating every location he’s been to. Oh, and tattoos aside, he’s a really solid playmaker with a great nose for set pieces and overall awareness. I’m betting he scores the first goal on the Euro. Note it somewhere.
Right Midfielder – CAPTAIN Jakub Błaszczykowski – Borussia Dortmund
Dortmunders love their beer. And their Poles. Błaszczykowski is the leader of this team, the primary playmaker and by far the best passer. He starts on the wing, but switches to the middle often. He creates goals, draws penalties, free kicks and corners. If you don’t like Kuba, you don’t like Poland. And if you don’t like Poland, you don’t like me.
Striker – Robert Lewandowski – Borussia Dortmund
The third of the “Dortmunder Triangle”, and possibly the best. Lewandowski was named the Bundesliga Player of the Year for his incredible striking season. He scored 22 goals in league games, and another 8 in various cups, including a hat trick in the Cup Final against Munich. Oh, and he isn’t even the penalty kick taker in his team, so those are all off live balls. Add his 10 assists to that, and you have a pretty complete striker on your hands. If Poland reaches the semis (fat chance, ha!), he’s probably going to be the leading scorer of the tournament.
The manager of the team is Franciszek Smuda. I won’t talk about him, since I see him as a bit of a douche, a part of an oldboys club that is slowly destroying Polish soccer. This team would’ve been much better with more people like Arboleda, internationals living in Poland and willing to represent it. Unfortunately, prejudices take top. Fortunately, his tactical mind is still pretty sound. Don’t expect Poland to play overly exciting football, though, Smuda’d rather play defensive football with an emphasis on midfield possession.
That’s all folks. My next piece will be a short description of every team in the tournament, from a Polish point of view.
Oh, and please enjoy the audio file below of a reading of the names above, completed with a little impromptu rhyme created out of Polish swear words.