Poland's chances of succeeding at the European Championships depend on one man and one man only: Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich man is one of the best strikers in the world, scoring a total of 44 goals in 49 games. He's done enough to earn the coveted transfer link to Real Madrid, that elicited a stern response from Bayern's chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge:
"The decision has been made: we won't let Robert Lewandowski go, regardless of what offer lands on the table."
Every man has his price, but it's a testament to Lewandowski's ability that his price is in the unmentionables for right now.
If there was any fear of his proficiency, it would be the fear of his club performances not translating to international level — after all, Poland isn't exactly Bayern Munich. Lewandowski has put that anxiety to rest by scoring 13 goals in his last ten games for his country. It was his last-minute goal against Scotland that tied the game at 2-2 and eliminated their opponents from European Championship contention, and it was his winner in a 2-1 victory against Republic of Ireland that qualified Poland.
The team itself has done well in qualifying. They only finished a point below Germany, whom they managed to beat 2-0 last year to end a competitive run of 19 matches without defeat. They've deceptively scored the most goals in the lead-up to the contest, as most of those goals came against lowly Gibraltar. But the fact remains that this is a Polish team with ambition and talent.
The last few tournaments have not seen them do well — they were eliminated in the group stages in both, even when they were co-hosts in 2012. Beyond that, they usually are more try-hards and spectators rather than participants.
This summer they have an opportunity to change that. They are in a group with Germany, Northern Ireland and Ukraine, and should have the confidence that they can finish second. Only Germany is stronger than them, and even with that, they have proven that they can compete and even beat the world champions.
Most of the players are not superstars. They are generally more working class in terms of importance, but that may be where their strength this summer lies. They know the limits of their abilities, and are aware that in order to have success — which for this tournament is nothing short of a round of 16 place — they have to work hard. They have to work hard and they have to create opportunities for their main striker.
The great thing about that is that the one star they do have, the one that they have to grind for, doesn't need too many chances in order to have an impact. He is a class above every other player in the Poland national team, that is evident, but he is also head and shoulders above most other players participating in the tournament overall. He is one of the top three strikers in world football.
The weaker opponents can be beaten by teamwork, but against the stronger ones, the celebrity names, Poland is going to need Lewandowski to have several of his patented scoring outbursts. Those games where he scores five goals in nine minutes after coming off the bench, or when he scores three in the space of four minutes against Georgia.
It's a tough ask, but there's really no other choice. Poland has a good team, and has shown that they mean business this time around. But their hope, savior and only realistic option to achieve their goals this summer is Robert Lewandowski. There's no shame in that. Rather, it should be something to boast about, and he should be the weapon that they bludgeon other teams with on the path to success. Feed him and he will score.