Poland pin Euro hopes on star striker

2015-12-11 18:00
Robert Lewandowski, ster-doelskieter van Pole, staan Vrydag breed in Bafana se pad.Foto: Getty Images

Cape Town - Poland can hardly do much worse after finishing bottom of its group without a win on both of the country's previous European Championship appearances. The side will be looking to atone for the particular disappointment of exiting the tournament at the first stage on home soil last time around.

Poland is hoping star striker Robert Lewandowski can steer the team through another fruitful period, as the likes of Grzegorz Lato and Zbigniew Boniek did during a golden era for Polish football in the 1970s and 1980s. Poland played in four successive World Cups, finishing third in West Germany in 1974 and Spain in 1982.

Lewandowski scored a record-equaling 13 goals in qualifying as Poland finished second behind Germany in Group D. The highlight of the campaign was a first win over its neighbor at the 19th attempt on Oct. 11, 2014, when the side defeated the world champions 2-0 in Warsaw.

Under former international Adam Nawalka, who took over as coach from the sacked Waldemar Fornalik in October 2013, Poland has played to its collective strengths while looking to Lewandowski for goals and inspiration.

Languishing in 69th place in the FIFA rankings when Nawalka took over, Poland has since climbed to 34th and is aiming for further improvement with a commendable performance in France.

Here is a look at Poland's top three players and its coach, Nawalka:


Some believed Lewandowski might struggle at Bayern Munich following his 2014 switch from Borussia Dortmund. Bayern coach Pep Guardiola was known for his propensity for a "false-9" rather than an out-and-out striker like Lewandowski, who was expected to find it difficult to earn his place in a squad packed with stars.

But Lewandowski banished all doubts by rising to the challenge and confirming his status as one of the world's best forwards. If anything, he's only getting better. Last September, Lewandowski scored five goals in nine minutes for Bayern against Wolfsburg, evoking memories of the four he scored for Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid.

Clinical in front of goal and dangerous with his back to it - Lewandowski's ball control, strength and industry are a nightmare for opposing defenders - the 27-year-old is undoubtedly Poland's star man and the key to the side's success.


Another of Poland's foreign legion, Krychowiak is an automatic choice as a defensive midfielder and the only player besides Lewandowski to have played in every qualifying game.

The tough 25-year-old, who scored in Poland's 2-1 win over Ireland that clinched qualification, epitomizes the side's hard work ethic and provides tireless displays in the center of the pitch, quickly switching from defense to attack. He plays a vital role for Poland and is already a veteran for the side after making his senior debut in 2008.

Krychowiak's performances for Sevilla earned him a place on La Liga's team of the season for 2014/15 alongside Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez.

Krychowiak previously played in France - for Reims, Nantes and Bordeaux - and still calls the country his second home.


Poland captain Glik is a tough tackler known for his no-nonsense style and work rate. Excellent in the air and with good organizational skills, the 190-centimeter-tall (6-foot 3-inch) defender provides a commanding presence at center back.

Glik, who had a 93 percent pass completion rate in qualifying, captains Serie A side Torino, where he moved in 2011 after a loan spell at Bari from Palermo. He previously played for Polish side Piast Gliwice and spent two seasons at Real Madrid's second reserve side, which he joined as a teenager.

Glik, now 27, scored on his debut for Poland in January 2010.


Nawalka, who played at the 1978 World Cup for Poland, took over in October, 2013 following the team's failure to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. The 58-year-old was coaching Gornik Zabrze, then top of the Polish first division. He had led Gornik to promotion six months after taking over in 2010.

Nawalka's task was simple: lead the side to Euro 2016 in France. The campaign got off to a great start with a 7-0 rout of Gibraltar and then the 2-0 win over Germany.

"It never occurred to me that we would not be at the European Championship. I had a strategy, a vision of how to conduct our work," Nawalka said. "Robert (Lewandowski) gave this team a glow, but all were prominent, every cell functioned. It was a fantastic collective. We're making progress and, I will say immodestly, we have not had our final word."

Nawalka, who coached several Polish sides including three stints at hometown club Wisla Krakow, was briefly the assistant to then Poland coach Leo Beenhakker during the qualifying campaign for Euro 2008.


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