There may have been none of the pressure of a qualifying tournament for Franciszek Smuda over the past 18 months, but there has been plenty of heat on the Poland coach since he took over from Leo Beenhakker in 2009. Although they were only playing friendlies, an eight-month run without a win
in 2010 had Smuda’s detractors calling for his head, an outcry which only subsided somewhat after a 3-1 victory over Ivory Coast.
On his appointment, Smuda had promised his Poland would be playing “offensive and attractive football”, although a 6-0 thrashing by Spain in June 2010 made everyone realise that such a notion was but a dream. Even if he could later argue that his side had been beaten by the future world champions a few days before they started their campaign in South Africa, the painful lesson for Smuda was in discovering he did not have the personnel for his grand plan.
His biggest problem was his defence. And when he could not find the necessary players domestically to secure his back line he went looking abroad, persuading those who had been born in Poland but then moved to Germany to join his team. Werder Bremen left-back Sebastian Boenisch, and defensive midfielders Adam Matuszczyk of Cologne and Eugen Polanski of Mainz all switched allegiance and were handed their international debuts. Similarly, central defender Damien Perquis of Sochaux, who was born in France but has a Polish grandfather, also joined up.
And although there have been many critics of his “returning” national-team players, Smuda has stuck to his policy.
Boenisch, in particular, was an extremely important addition. Left-backs have been a traditional Polish problem and during Euro 2008 Beenhakker used three different players in the position in their three games.
However, no sooner had one problem been solved that another surfaced: injuries. After two knee operations, Boenisch’s appearances in the Bundesliga this season have been severely limited, while Perquis fractured an elbow in March and faces a battle to be fit in time.
There was an even bigger disappointment in February when star striker Robert Lewandowski could not play in the friendly against Portugal because of a muscle injury.
Theoretically Smuda has two experienced replacements in Pawel Brozek and Ireneusz Jelen. Brozek had scored regularly with Wisla Krakow for years, while Jelen was a fixture with French side Auxerre. Unfortunately, both moved clubs and neither is a regular starter these days. So maybe Smuda will have to take a risk on a youngster such as Artur Sobiech of Hanover or Ruch Chorzow’s Maciej Jankowski.
The aim is clear
No matter who makes up the final squad of 23, Smuda’s aim is quite clear: to get out of the group and into the knockout stage. With former Poland star Zbigniew Boniek describing the Group A pairing with Russia, Greece and Czech Republic, as “the easiest possible one”, Smuda’s players can blame only themselves if they do not make the last-eight phase, despite being the worst team at the tournament according to the FIFA rankings.
When Poland and Ukraine were chosen as co-hosts the then Polish FA chairman, Michal Listkiewicz, said: “The dream is coming true. It is the most important day in Polish football ever.” Five years have passed and another “most important day” looms as Smuda’s team face Greece at the National Stadium in Warsaw on June 8 to launch Euro 2012.
The biggest sporting event ever organised in the country will bring the biggest pressure ever to bear on the national team as well. But if Smuda’s players can handle the weight of expectation, they might just have a chance to fulfil the dream of a whole nation.
EURO 2012 FIXTURES
08.06.12 Greece (Warsaw)
12.06.12 Russia (Warsaw)
16.06.12 Czech Republic (Wroclaw)
EURO 2012 SQUAD
12 Grzegorz Sandomierski (22) 05.09.89 Genk (Blg)
1 Wojciech Szczesny (22) 18.04.90 Arsenal (Eng)
22 Przemyslaw Tyton (25) 04.01.87 PSV Eindhoven (Hol)
2 Sebastian Boenisch (25) 01.02.87 Werder Bremen (Ger)
15 Marcin Kaminski (20) 15.01.92 Lech Poznan
4 Damien Perquis (28) 10.04.84 Sochaux (Fra)
20 Lukasz Piszczek (27) 03.06.85 Borussia Dortmund (Ger)
13 Marcin Wasilewski (31) 09.06.80 Anderlecht (Blg)
14 Jakub Wawrzyniak (28) 07.07.83 Legia Warsaw
3 Grzegorz Wojtkowiak (28) 26.01.84 Lech Poznan
16 Jakub Blaszczykowski (26) 14.12.85 Borussia Dortmund (Ger)
5 Dariusz Dudka (28) 09.12.83 Auxerre (Fra)
21 Kamil Grosicki (24) 08.06.88 Sivasspor (Tur)
6 Adam Matuszczyk (23) 14.02.89 Cologne (Ger)
18 Adrian Mierzejewski (25) 06.11.86 Trabzonspor (Tur)
11 Rafal Murawski (30) 09.10.81 Lech Poznan
10 Ludovic Obraniak (27) 10.11.84 Bordeaux (Fra)
7 Eugen Polanski (26) 17.03.86 Mainz (Ger)
8 Maciej Rybus (22) 19.08.89 Terek Grozny (Rus)
17 Rafal Wolski (19) 10.11.92 Legia Warsaw
23 Pawel Brozek (29) 21.04.83 Trabzonspor (Tur)
9 Robert Lewandowski (23) 21.08.88 Borussia Dortmund (Ger)
19 Artur Sobiech (21) 12.06.90 Hanover (Ger)
Franciszek Smuda (63) 22.06.48
… Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was replaced by Grzegorz Sandomierski after doctors decided it was too risky to include him in the final squad due to a shoulder injury … Polonia Warsaw defender Tomasz Jodlowiec, Legia Warsaw striker Michal Kucharczyk and Torino defender Kamil Glik failed to make the cut from the original party of 26 …
Poland qualified as co-hosts
By Dariusz Kurowski