After EURO 2016, where Poland performed admirably and was only sent home after losing a quarter-final penalty shoot-out to subsequent champions Portugal, there’s little to be happy about. Four years ago, they finished bottom in a competitive group of Colombia, Japan, and Senegal, while EURO 2020 was also a failure with another last-place finish after Sweden, Spain, and Slovakia.
Qualifying for another World Cup wasn’t all smooth sailing. Second in their group after England, the Poles had to use the play-off route, which saw only Sweden standing in their way as Russia was excluded. Head coach Paulo Sousa left just three months before however, so his replacement Czeslaw Michniewicz was only in charge for his second game while beating the Swedes 2:0.
How do they play?
With Michniewicz in charge for less than a year, there is little to go by. The former Legia Warsaw coach has tinkered with a variety of formations as Poland tackled the Nations League rather unsuccessfully, with just two wins in six games, but they did beat Wales both home and away.
Maybe it would’ve been a stretch to ask for more as matching up with Belgium and the Netherlands was always going to be tough, but that is the level awaiting in Qatar. They need to get their defense in order after shipping in 11 goals in those four games, while scoring just thrice.
Why they can win?
Poland has a reputation for underachieving by now, but the pieces for success are all there. Most of the squad plays for top European sides, with Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski still leading the way. Not much will be expected this time, but might this be a blessing in disguise for a talented team?
Why they can lose?
The experiment with manager Paulo Sousa ended quite abruptly when the Portuguese decided to leave for Flamengo. New head coach Czeslaw Michniewicz had no international pedigree beyond youth teams and hasn’t done enough to prove his doubters wrong just yet. And while Lewandowski has aged like fine wine, some key players have not.
The leading stars
34-year-old Lewandowski, who scored a staggering 344 goals in 375 games for Bayern Munich, hasn’t missed a beat after moving to Barcelona, scoring close to a goal per game for the Catalan club too. 28-year-old Napoli midfielder Piotr Zielinski has been on fire and Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is still one of the world’s best. There really is a lot of talent on this squad.
The fresh faces
Head coach Michniewicz tasted historic success with the Poland Under-21 team back in 2019 and a handful of those young men can expect to make the cut, but watch out for 20-year-old Wolfsburg winger Jakub Kaminski and 19-year-old Brighton/Vitesse midfielder Kacper Kozlowski. Last summer, the latter became the youngest-ever player to appear at the European Championships.