They boast one of Europe’s greatest-ever marksmen, but is Paulo Sousa the man to be able to turn the remarkable Robert Lewandowski and his Polish colleagues into genuine contenders?
Jerzy Brzeczek made a little bit of football history when he masterminded Poland’s path to Euro 2020, the first time the Eastern European country had qualified for three major finals in a row – and it cost him his job.
Brzeczek probably wasn’t expecting the Freedom of Warsaw for his feat but a contract extension signed last November suggested he was at least going to see his work through and take the Poles to the finals.
But federation president Zbigniew Boniek had other ideas, suggested Brzeczek couldn’t handle the heat and mercilessly wielded the axe, turning instead to ex-QPR, Swansea and Leicester boss Paulo Sousa to take charge of the
History Not on Poland’s Side
Sousa, who was only appointed in January, is acutely aware that Poland aren’t among the fancied sides this summer but ever since the 1970s and ’80s, the heyday of Deyna, Boniek and Lato, that has been the case.
They have failed to qualify for five of the last eight World Cups and this is just their fourth European Championship finals. Five years ago they did famously go out at the quarter-final stage without actually losing a game but two years later bombed in Russia at the World Cup, finishing bottom of a group they had been favourites to win.
They subsequently flopped in the inaugural Nations League, failing to win any of four games against Italy and Portugal, and were fairly underwhelming qualifying for these finals, scoring only 18 goals in ten qualifiers. Boniek questioned Brzeczek’s style and acted accordingly.
Lewandowski The Key to Polish Success
It’s easy to see why Boniek, a gifted forward in Poland’s pomp, would have turned to Sousa, an innovative coach who has managed in seven different countries and has always showed bravery and individuality when it comes to tactics.
Sousa will love to stamp some style and guile on this group but the Portuguese will also be all too aware that if Poland are to flourish, he needs Robert Lewandowski to have the tournament of a lifetime.
Poland aren’t a one-man team but utterly rely on their most-capped record goalscorer, who is enjoying another incredible season with Bayern Munich. What Sousa has to come up with is a style that brings the best out in his ace marksman.
The spine of the team looks solid enough; Juventus keeper Wojciech Szczesny has been hailed as Sousa’s first-choice No.1, while Kamil Glik and Jan Bednarek will be pillars of the backline. Grzegorz Krychowiak has rarely put a foot wrong in a decade patrolling the Polish midfield. Sousa now needs to find the men and the means to feed Lewandowski and ask his Bayern gem to do the rest.
6/1 to win Group E, a section Spain are odds-on to top, and which also features Sweden and Slovakia. The last 16 is a minimum ambition – getting further, however, is a challenge that has proved insurmountable for over three decades.
Glik has called Poland a “medium team which can cause problems against big teams but only if we have a good day”.
Maybe those good days will be this summer.
*All odds correct at time of writing