The intensity level at the 2006 FIFA World Cup will be increased a notch this evening in Dortmund as the second wave of group matches gets underway.
With a maximum of six more points to play for, the outcome of the second group matches take on enormous significance – not least for Poland, who face hosts Germany in Group A this evening knowing that defeat will probably result in their elimination. Considering the fact that Poland have failed to beat their neighbours in fourteen previous attempts, their task this evening looks huge.
Following their comprehensive but unexpected 2-0 defeat at the hands of Ecuador in Gelsenkirchen last Friday, the Poles are under enormous pressure to get at least a point from this evening’s match to keep their World Cup dream alive. The added spice of this evening’s game being a fierce local derby will only add to the pressure on Polish coach Pawel Janas and his squad.
An exciting yet flawed win over Costa Rica in the tournament’s opening game has made Germany’s position fairly comfortable, but all that could change this evening if Poland can pull off a shock victory over Jurgen Klinsmann’s young team. After the celebratory atmosphere of the first few days of the competition, the serious business begins now.
This evening’s match has long been identified as the main potential flashpoint for rival supporters during the group stage. Memories of a pre-arranged clash between rival hooligans on the German-Polish border last November remain fresh in the mind, and security will be tight in Dortmund this evening for this potentially explosive clash. Visiting diplomats are playing down the historic antipathy between the two nations and are citing Germany’s role in Poland’s recent admission to the EU as evidence of progress. It will not, however, prevent a massive police presence in the city centre this evening.
Turning to the game itself, Germany coach Klinsmann has no fresh injury worries ahead of this evening’s contest, and is preparing to welcome back captain and star player Michael Ballack, who missed the opening win over Costa Rica with a slight calf strain. Ballack will definitely start, probably at the expense of Werder Bremen midfielder Tim Borowski – Torsten Frings’ superb goal in the opening victory should ensure he keeps his place. The only absentee will be Mike Hanke, who completes a two-match ban.
The main bone of contention in the German press revolves around Germany’s defence, which looked fragile in conceding two goals against Costa Rica. While Phillip Lahm is certain to keep his place after a wonderful goal and energetic performance on Friday, the question of who will occupy the other full-back berth is less clear cut.
Klinsmann is likely to persevere with the experienced Arne Friedrich, despite his role in both Costa Rica goals through errant positioning. If, however, Klinsmann decides to replace Friedrich, the right-footed Lahm may switch to Friedrich’s position. This will allow Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marcell Jansen to slot in at left-back. The pacy Jansen enjoyed a superb first full season in the Bundesliga last term.
The rest of the team looks fairly settled. There have been some negative rumblings in the German press about the form of centre-half Per Mertesacker, who still doesn’t look to have fully recovered from his dreadful performance against Italy in the spring. Germany have a ready made replacement in the giant Robert Huth but, as with Friedrich, Klinsmann is likely to give Mertesacker another chance.
An interesting sub-plot to this evening’s match is the fact that both of Germany’s strikers – Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski – were born in Poland but chose to play for Germany. Both have been popular with the media this in the days leading up to the match, and Klinsmann has been asked to answer several questions regarding the possibility of divided loyalties.
“Of course I am not worried that they won’t want to knock Poland out,” Klinsmann argued on Tuesday.
“We’re glad they are on our side because they are exceptional players. If anything playing Poland could be an extra motivation for them to score goals. It will be a special moment for them because of their Polish roots and the fact that they speak Polish together on the pitch.”
Focussing on Germany’s opponents, the coach revealed that his staff and his squad were not taking too much notice of Poland’s below-par performance in the opening match.
“This is the equivalent of a local derby, so recent form counts for little,” he said.
“They need to get three points from this game or they could well be out. They will be fired up to do everything they can to stay in the competition. A boxer who seems down is always at his most dangerous. Poland have got their backs to the wall, so tomorrow’s game promises to be one heck of a battle. But we won’t change our policy of aggressive, attacking football.”
Despite an encouraging opening and the support of almost 40,000 fans in Gelsenkirchen, the Poland quickly lost their way in their opening match and in the end were deserved losers. Having been fancied before the tournament to push Germany all the way in Group A, the 2-0 defeat to the Ecuadorians was a massive surprise and its effect on Poland’s chances of qualification could be terminal.
Draw the minimum requirement
Unless, of course, they can cause an upset of their own this evening and beat the hosts. Coach Pawel Janas is under no illusions to the enormity and importance of his team’s task this evening.
“If we don’t get at least a draw then we might as well pack our bags,” the coach said on Monday.
“The points we squandered against Ecuador we must make up against Germany. They are by no means unbeatable and we will be giving more than 100% to win.”
Friday’s poor performance means that Poland have failed to score in six out of their last eight World Cup Finals matches, and it also prolonged their unwanted record of failing to score in the opening game of the last five World Cups they have qualified for. In spite of the defeat and all these factors, Janas is likely to continue with his policy of playing a lone striker, Celtic’s Maciej Zurawski.
Ebi Smolarek was the one player to emerge with credit from the opening-day defeat, and the 25 year-old Dortmund right winger will be playing in his home stadium this evening and is in confident mood ahead of the match.
“It will be great feeling for me to run out there tonight,” he said.
“If we were to win, then I’d be delighted. I am in decent form at the moment, physically and mentally. But I can only speak for myself and not my team-mates.”
The final part of that quote is rather telling, and suggests that morale is low in the Poland camp. There is, however, nothing like a match against your closest rivals to stir the blood, and Janas will be hoping that the identity of the opposition and the importance of the result will be enough to pick his beleaguered team up. He has already spoken of the need to change personnel, if not formation, for this evening’s match but is keeping his plans to himself. The two players pressing hardest for a recall to the side are Southampton midfielder Kamil Kosowski, and centre-half Mariusz Lewandowski of Shakhtar Donetsk. Kosowski impressed in the fifteen minutes he was afforded as a substitute last Friday, but a slight hamstring injury could keep him on the sidelines.
“I’ll definitely make a few changes,” Janas revealed.
“Who’s in and who’s out is my business, and it depends on the fitness of certain players. This match with Germany is the match of our lives. It’s a case of ‘to be or not to be’ tomorrow.”
By Mark Robinson
Germany: Lehmann; Friedrich, Mertesacker, Metzelder, Lahm; Schneider, Frings, Ballack, Schweinsteiger; Podolski, Klose.
Poland: Boruc; Baszczynski, Bak, Lewandowski, Zewlakow; Smolarek, Jelen, Szymkowiak, Sobolewski, Krzynowek; Zurawski
Referee: Luis Medina Cantalejo (Spain)