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May 23, 2006

Building for the future

History

After finishing behind England in the qualifying group Poland made it to Germany as one of the best placed runners-up - winning eight of their ten qualifying matches - and will be looking to take that winning mentality to the World Cup this summer.

Despite a disappointing time at Korea/Japan 2002, when they finished bottom of the group after losing to Portugal and South Korea and beating the USA, the Bialo-czerwoni (The White and Red) still have a more than respectable record at the Finals.

The Poles have qualified for seven tournaments, racking up 14 wins, 9 losses and 5 draws, and have reached the semi-finals of the tournament on two occasions.

On German soil in 1974 they finished third, beating the Brazilians by way of consolation and gaining revenge for a 6-5 loss to the Samba Boys on their World Cup debut in 1938. On that occasion Ernst Wilimowski scored four times but ended up on the losing side, in 1974 Grzegorz Lato scored the only goal in a 1-0 win at the Olympiastadion, Munich.

At Espana '82 the Polish team matched the progress of the '74 team to the semi-finals, only to be beaten 2-0 by an on-form Italian team. The Poles defeated France 3-2 to claim the bronze medal position in Spain.

During their glory years Poland turned their talent into success and scooped the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, adding silver at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Those past achievements in Germany (World Cup 1974 and 1992 Olympics) may appear to be a good omen but the current Poland squad has none of the iconic players of the past. At Espana 82 the team was marshalled by world-class midfielder Zbigniew Boniek, who later moved to Juventus for a fee that dwarfed that of other East Europeans, now the biggest stars are probably the striker force of Celtic's Maciej Zurawski and Wolves' Tomas Frankowski.

The duo amassed a total of 14 goals in qualifying for Germany 2006 but while Poland may prove too strong for the weaker sides they are too weak for the stronger sides, as the two defeats to England in qualifying highlighted.

But after 16 years in the wilderness, before the poor performance of World Cup 2002, Poland are in a rebuilding process and the current team will be keen to emulate the great sides of yester year as they build again for the future.

The gaffer

Poland coach Pavel Janas' record of 25 wins, six draws and nine defeats is now the best of any Polish coach in 20 years.

The Pabianice-born Pole spent most of his coaching career at Legia Warsaw and he teamed up with Janusz Wójcik at Legia after helping Poland to the silver medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

From 1994 to 1996 Janas took over as the head coach at Legia and guided the club to the League and Cup double in 1994 and 1995, landed the Polish Supercup in 1994 and reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions' Cup during the 95-96 season.

As a player Janas began his career at his local club Wlókniarz Pabianice in 1965 and progressed all the way to the international team by 1976, going on to win 53 caps. The pinnacle of his playing career arrived at World Cup 1982 when he played in every game as the Bialo-czerwoni reached the semi-finals.

When Janas took over as coach of the Polish national team from Zbigniew Boniek they were struggling to qualify for Euro 2004 and despite failing to turn the campaign around he did use the games to blood young players and experiment with more attacking tactics.

The new players and fresh ideas worked well in World Cup qualifying and Janas was feted in Poland as they sat top of the group with a 100% record. But following the 2-1 home defeat to England he came in for heavy criticism and was lambasted for sticking with his favourite players when others were available.

At that point the 53-year-old, who had been enjoying life as vice-president of sport at Amica Wronki until the national team called in 2002, considered throwing the towel in on management but eventual decided against it and will pit his wits against Germany, Costa Rica and Ecuador at least, as group rivals.

One to watch

Even the most ardent Poland fan would have to admit that the Bialo-czerwoni are not a team of world stars, in fact they are a team without one world star.

That said, combine their strike duo into a single entity and you have a potent attacking threat. Maciej Zurawski and Euzebiusz (Ebi) Smolarek are head and shoulders above the rest of the squad and it is difficult to separate the two.

Zurawski has been a big success for Celtic this year, where he wears the number seven shirt vacated by Hoops legend Henrik Larsson, and has scored 20 goals for the SPL champions. The 29-year-old is the star of the Polish team - his technique, movement and class really stand out.

The former Wisla Kraków striker won the championship and the Polish League Cup in 2000 but had a disappointing time,at World Cup 2002, as did the entire Polish team, where he mustered only two shots in the entire tournament.

But while Zurawski is the obvious choice, the versatile Smolarek could well shine at in Germany with his bursting runs from midfield. He has scored 13 goals for Borrussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga as a striker this season but for the national team he generally plays in a deeper role.

'The Hash bomber', as he is nicknamed after testing positive for marijuana when playing in Holland for Feyenoord, can play on the wing as well as up front and could be instrumental in any of the midfield or forward positions.


  • If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.