Whisper it quietly, but this is surely the most exciting Poland team since 1982, when they finished third at the World Cup in Italy. T
hey will certainly be expected to do far better than their two group stage exits in 2008 and 2012 – the latter of which they co-hosted – and it would be a surprise if Adam Nawalka’s side, who should face favourable opposition in the round of 16, did not at least reach the quarter-finals. If Robert Lewandowski, their one indisputably world-class player, can hit top form then they might even cause a surprise or two on top of that.
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THE BIG QUESTION
Is this Poland team the real deal? There is certainly excitement around their prospects and that was only slightly tempered by the fact that their group, featuring the two nations that geographically sandwich them in Germany and Ukraine, looks slightly less predictable for the ‘derby’ games it will bring.
Poland have not reached the knock-out stages of a major tournament since 1986; doing so this time would be an achievement in itself but there will be pressure to do something bigger and a run of impressive friendly results has added to the optimism.
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HOW FAR WILL POLAND GET AT EURO 2016?
Poland look bright and inventive throughout and the team is fairly settled, a modern-looking 4-2-3-1 allowing an industrious, creative trio behind Lewandowski to set the attacking tempo.
Lukasz Piszczek is still a fine attacking right-back but Maciej Rybus is injured and Poland will miss his runs from the back.
In goal, Lukasz Fabianski should keep his place ahead of former Arsenal team-mate Wojciech Szczesny, for whom he often used to deputise in north London. Centre-back may be a weak spot against top opponents; Poland conceded 10 times in qualifying.
THE MANAGER: ADAM NAWALKA
Poland boss Adam Nawalka
Image credit: Reuters
Nawalka won 34 caps as a player, but after leaving Wisla Krakow at the age of 28 he contented himself with semi-professional football and a range of manual labour jobs in the US before later becoming a car salesman back home.
His coaching career began in the late 1990s and took him to a number of domestic clubs – including Wisla Krakow and, most recently, Gornik Zabrze – before taking the national team job in 2013. He has moulded a vibrant, creative unit that looks to be the strongest Poland have taken to a major tournament in many years.
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Image credit: Imago
Robert Lewandowski: Lewandowski makes anything seem possible for Poland. Six of his 13 qualifying goals may have come against Gibraltar but the Bayern Munich striker sits comfortably among Europe’s best and should give his country an edge against equally-matched opponents.
Grzegorz Krychowiak: The Sevilla holding midfielder, strongly linked with Arsenal in the past, is one of the best around – a forceful, physical presence who can play a bit too. A move to a different Premier League club may well materialise after Euro 2016
Arkadiusz Milik: Milik did not quite thrive at Bayer Leverkusen but has been prolific in a brilliant two seasons with Ajax and, still just 22, is developing into a top-class forward. Although 6ft 2, he moves with ease and has a sweet left foot.
SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
Milik’s Instagram account mainly contains match action and days out with his girlfriend – but there is a sprinkling of comedy too and none more so than a decidedly unnerving photograph of him made up as the ‘Joker’ from the Batman movies.
JONATHAN WILSON’S KILLER KNOWLEDGE
Lewandowski is what turns a good Poland side into possible contenders, but it would be a mistake to think it’s all about him. Krychowiak is a fine holding player and all the line of three creators – Jakub Blaszczykowski, Milik and Kamil Grosicki – offer a threat.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Poland finished runners-up in Group D to Germany, with whom they are thus very well acquainted ahead of their Euro 2016 match-up. They proved that they could defeat their old rivals too, Milik and Sebastian Mila famously scoring to give them a 2-0 win on the second matchday.
They had already battered Gibraltar 7-0 away, and would later beat the same opponents 8-1 at home; Poland looked confident and assured throughout their campaign and a 2-1 win over the Republic of Ireland, Lewandowski scoring the clincher in Warsaw, confirmed their automatic place in France.
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