LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal celebrates after Mikel Arteta of Arsenal scored their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on April 8, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Poland aren't the strongest team, but they have enough quality from Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Lukasz Piszczek and Wojciech Szczesny to qualify from a fairly weak group. Whether those players do it is another story, but if they play well, Poland will play well.
According to FIFA rankings (which, given the fact that Poland haven't played a competitive ranking in two years) the co-host of this summer's European Championships are the worst team to have qualified; worse than Ireland, worse than Greece and worse than the Ukraine. Luckily for them, they've been handed a very manageable group: neither the Czech Republic or the aforementioned Greece are as good as they were in 2004, so Poland could easily finish second behind Russia, or even top the group if they were to upset the Group A favourites.
They have enough talent to do so; while Wojciech Szczesny and Robert Lewandowski are the big names, Poland have two other starters besides Lewandowski from the Double-winning Borussia Dortmind: the captain, Jakub Blaszczykowski (who'll be referred to as Kuba from here on out), and the player behind him on the right side for club and country, Lukasz Piszczek. All four of Poland's stars will be key to their quick counter-attacking game, but the co-hosts have some decent supporting players, at least in the first XI.
Poland will likely play a more defensive minded version of 4-2-3-1, with the creativity coming from the wings. Maciej Rybus has been impressive in recent friendly victories, especially in the 1-0 victory over Slovakia, where his crossing and dribbling proved dangerous. Ludovic Obraniak's transfer to Bordeaux in January coincided with their rise to a Europa League place, a run that he was crucial for. Given a free role behind Lewandowki, Obraniak will try to dictate Poland's attacking play by linking up with the wingers and Lewandowski. What Obraniak doesn't offer though, is an ability to play through passes or a significant goal threat, which is a consistent problem for manager Franciszek Smuda.
Beyond Lewandowski (someone who should be seriously considered for the Golden Boot), only Kuba has a decent scoring record, with 6 goals last season for Dortmund and 9 goals in 51 games for Poland. Thus, when Poland attack, Kuba will usually try to influence the game, either by combining with Obraniak and setting up crossing opportunities, or through getting into decent scoring positions. A further crossing threat on the right hand side will be through the virtual wingback, Piszczek, which could allow for some devastatingly effective combinations between Piszczek, Obraniak and Kuba on the right hand side.
If Poland are to score goals, it'll likely be through the Dortmund pair on the right hand side and Lewandowski up front, with Obraniak linking up with all three, and Kuba and Lewandowski offering the goal-threat. If neither Lewandowski or Kuba can score, Eugen Polanski and Rafal Murawski, the two defensive midfielders, can always chip in with a long range effort. Polanski will be more of a second-function midfielder, spreading play wide, but not being particularly penetrative, a role he plays for his club Mainz, and for the Germany U-21 team in the 2006 European Championships. Murawski is the probable partner for Polanski, with Smuda showing a preference for the slightly more experienced Lech Poznan man over Auxerre's versatile defensive midfielder Dariusz Dudka, who can also fill in at fullback or centre back.
The two defensive midfielders will shield a very deep-lying defence; neither French born Damien Perquis nor his likely partners Marcin Wasilewski or Aradiusz Glowacki are particularly quick off the mark, but all are rather strong in the air, making them good penalty box defenders, and thus much more adept to defending deeply. At left back, Jakub Wawrzyniak could be the only Ekstraklasa representative if Murawski doesn't start; unlike Murawski, Wawrzyniak has very little experience outside of Poland, so, between his relative inexperience and Piszczek's desire to push forward, opposing teams may find joy down Poland's flanks.
In goal, Wojciech Szczesny will start, despite his injury towards the end of the season for Arsenal that prevented him from training. While past Poland squads have featured Artur Boruc, Tomas Kuszczak and Lukasz Fabianski, none will be in the squad; Fabianski is injured, while neither Boruc nor Kuszczak were picked. Szczesny, though, should be one of the better goalkeepers in the tournament; he's an excellent shot-stopper and has excellent concentration levels, and he's very good under pressure. Poland do have some options off the bench; Kamil Grosicki is a good winger who has a decent scoring rate, while 19 year old Rafal Wolski is a very exciting playmaker that has interested Borussia Dortmund.
GK Wojceich Szczesny RB Lukasz Piszczek CB Damien Perquis CB Marcin Wasilewski LB Jakub Wawrzyniak DM Eugen Polanski DM Rafal Murawski RM Jakub Blaszczykowski AM Ludovic Obraniank LM Maceij Rybus CF Robert Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski: The Dortmund striker comes into the Euros in terrific form; his 30 goals in 46 games helped Dortmund secure the Double. He's scored at every club he's been at, and while his international scoring record is respectable, it should be better. Lewandowski has the chance to partially fix that at this summer's Euros, and is the outside favourite for the Golden Boot. If Poland are to go through, he'll have to score.
Quarter finals: Poland havea strong enough core of stars (all of whom would get into most team's squads, aside from perhaps Germany, Spain, Holland and France) and a supporting cast that is good enough to allow Poland to get out of a fairly weak group. They won't beat Russia, but they can and should get the results needed against the Czech Republic and Greece to finish second. They'll lose to the first place team from Group B but they'll hardly embarrass themselves.