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The Warsaw Voice » Society » June 25, 2008
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The Dream Fizzles Out
June 25, 2008   
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Poland's Euro 2008 dreams finally fizzled out with a 1-0 defeat to Croatia June 16, crushing fans' hopes that their country's first ever European soccer championships would at least bring honor, if not glory.

Poland exit the tournament after two defeats, plus one draw with championship co-hosts Austria, who were also eliminated after losing to Germany 1-0 the same day.

Before the match with Croatia, who had qualified as group winners even before kickoff, many Polish fans were skeptical their team could make it into the quarterfinals. A popular joke went, "The first game is all about glory, the second match is for everything, and the third game is about honor."

In the event, Poland slinked out of the championships unable to hold their heads high after a defeat to a Croatian team largely composed of reserves. The only goal of the game was scored by an emotional Ivan Klasnic, and the Croatians clearly looked the more dangerous team for the duration of the match.

The Poles played a total of three games in the tournament, and their best performance was during their 2-0 loss against Germany, the toughest of the three opponents.

Zbigniew Boniek, one of the most famous Polish players of all time and former national team coach, has suggested that Poland's Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker should be blamed and fired. The fault, however, clearly lies with the Polish players. Almost none of them played as well as during the Euro 2008 qualification campaign. The defense, which has traditionally been Poland's strong side, was statistically one of the worst in the tournament, while the likes of Jacek Krzynówek and Ebi Smolarek, who were expected to score for Poland, barely managed any shots on goal. Mariusz Lewandowski, who had proved a ball winner and midfield engine during the qualification campaign, looked more like a depressed man out for a therapeutic Sunday walk. The exceptions were goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who saved Poland's skin repeatedly, and Brazilian-born newcomer to the team Roger, who with their energy and skills did all they could for the Polish team, and impressed foreign observers.

While the Polish press had expected Poland to do much better, the team's performance-finishing the tournament at the bottom of the list, scoring only one offside goal and allowing four in-was largely what Western observers had expected. A national league where any player showing talent is directly packed off for a small transfer fee to sit on the bench in richer Western clubs cannot hope to field 11 players fit to take on a major tournament. The Croatians who beat Poland might have been a reserve team, but they are all starters for their clubs and ranked higher than their Polish counterparts.

In a press conference after the game, Beenhakker said, "The difference between Ronaldo, van Nistelrooy, Henry or Villa and our players is enormous. That is why we are not as good as Holland, Spain, and Portugal. What is the solution for this? Fire the coach, of course! That is what you always do! Do you really think that after I leave you will suddenly have Ronaldo, Torres, Deco or Henry playing for Poland? If you do then I can leave. If you believe in more structured changes, I am ready to work on, because I love Poland and Polish football."

With Poland set to co-host the 2012 European championships, the best step that the country can take is to keep Beenhakker and give him more time to improve on his achievements. Poland is a soccer loving nation. Slow, structured progress toward identifying and preserving talent, nourishing joy for the game and team effort could really bring Poland back to the levels of the glorious 1970s and '80s. But without a bit of humility, willingness to work and sweat, and without more passion for the art of the game, Poland may be in for a tough ride with even greater disappointment on home grounds in four years.

Toni Mickiewicz
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