14 June – Slovakia (5pm GMT, Saint Petersburg Stadium, St Petersburg)
19 June – Spain (8pm GMT, Estadio La Cartuja, Seville)
23 June – Sweden (5pm GMT, Saint Petersburg Stadium, St Petersburg)
Nobody was more upset than Poland to see Euro 2020 postponed by a year, as a great deal has changed since then, writes Susy Campanale.
Potential past its prime
With the best striker in the world right now breaking records at Bayern Munich and would’ve been a dead cert for the Ballon d’Or in 2020 if not cancelled by the pandemic, nobody more than Poland was upset at the postponement of the Euros last summer. A great deal has changed since then, including their coach, but the potential remains to be a real dark horse at this delayed event.
When they were meant to be heading into the competition in 2020, Jerzy Brzeczek had taken them to the top of their qualifying group with a couple of games to spare and confidence was high that they could not just get past the group stage, but beyond their previous best of the quarter-finals. However, with a dismal Nations League showing and criticism over their negative tactics, Brzeczek was fired in January 2021, replaced by former Fiorentina coach Paulo Sousa. It was a radical shift and he’s barely had any time for the team to get to know his very different style of football.
Robert Lewandowski had been top of the world – literally – winning everything with Bayern Munich, but despite breaking Gerd Muller’s 1971-72 record with 41 Bundesliga goals in a single season, it hasn’t been quite the same mood in 2021. Injury ruled him out of the Champions League quarter-finals against PSG and he’ll be eager to vent that frustration for Poland, but despite being by far their best ever player, Lewa hasn’t really delivered in a major tournament. Looking back, the centre-forward managed one goal in Euro 2012, one in Euro 2016, fired blanks in his three 2018 World Cup games and three in seven Nations League appearances.
It was Lewandowski’s frustration with Brzeczek that prompted the change to Sousa, and there have certainly been improvements under the new coach, netting three in his only two games with the Portuguese boss, a 3-3 in Hungary and his brace to beat Andorra 3-0. This remains a very long way off the heights that are expected of the world’s best hitman.
Lewandowski would’ve had support from several former and current Serie A stars, but Krzysztof Piatek was ruled out by injury, while Arkadiusz Milik is not 100 per cent fit either after a decent half-season in Marseille. That’s not to say it’s a one-man band, but the other big names in the Poland squad haven’t had the best 2021 either, including Wojciech Szczesny of Juventus, Napoli’s Piotr Zielinski, Kamil Glik relegated with Benevento and Grzegorz Krychowiak at Lokomotiv Moscow.
The veterans in the side are all a year older, a little bit more past their peak and in worse form than they were when the original Euro 2020 was scheduled. Even with a more attack-minded coach in Sousa, he’s hardly set the world alight results-wise, fired by Fiorentina, Tianjin Quanjian and Girondins de Bordeaux. Poland will only hope to scrap it out with Sweden for second place behind Spain and perhaps squeeze through to the knockout round, but it all feels like too little, far too late.
Coach: Paulo Sousa — Hardly a great success as a club coach, he was hired in January to bring some pep to Poland’s negative tactics, but barely had time to work with his players. It’s difficult to tell what Sousa will do, as he’s only had three competitive games in charge, one of them without Lewandowski, and injuries as well as some surprise players dropped from the squad make this a bit of a mystery.
Preferred XI: Szczesny; Bereszynski, Glik, Bednarek, Rybus; Frankowski, Zielinski, Krychowiak, Jozwiak; Milik, Lewandowski
Look out for: Piotr Zielinski – is capable of exquisite skill and is rarely left out at Napoli, in various different midfield roles, but is worryingly inconsistent.
Poland Euro 2020 squad
Goalkeepers: Lukasz Fabianski (West Ham), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus), Lukasz Skorupski (Bologna)
Defenders: Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Pawel Dawidowicz (Verona), Kamil Glik (Benevento), Michal Helik (Barnsley), Tomasz Kedziora (Dynamo Kyiv), Kamil Piatkowski (Rakow Czestochowa), Tymoteusz Puchacz (Lech Poznan), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moskva)
Midfielders: Przemyslaw Frankowski (Chicago Fire), Kamil Jozwiak (Derby), Mateusz Klich (Leeds), Kacper Kozlowski (Pogon Szczecin), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Lokomotiv Moskva), Karol Linetty (Torino), Jakub Moder (Brighton), Przemysław Placheta (Norwich), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli)
Forwards: Dawid Kownacki (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern), Arkadiusz Milik (Marseille), Karol Swiderski (PAOK), Jakub Swierczok (Piast Gliwice)
…Slovakia P 8 W 3 D 1 L 4 F 13 A 12
…Spain P 10 W 1 D 1 L 8 F 27 A 8
…Sweden P 26 W 8 D 4 L 14 F 56 A 37
Nickname: The White and Reds, The Eagles
Top Division: Ekstraklasa
FIFA World Ranking: 21
International honours: None
Most capped player: Robert Lewandowski (118)
Leading international scorer: Robert Lewandowski (66)
Poland at the European Championships:
1960 – Did not qualify
1964 – Did not qualify
1968 – Did not qualify
1972 – Did not qualify
1976 – Did not qualify
1980 – Did not qualify
1984 – Did not qualify
1988 – Did not qualify
1992 – Did not qualify
1996 – Did not qualify
2000 – Did not qualify
2004 – Did not qualify
2008 – Group Stage
2012 – Group Stage
2016 – Quarter-Final
How they got to Euro 2020: Comfortably with eight wins, a draw and one lone defeat.