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The Warsaw Voice » Society » October 22, 2008
Soccer
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Playing Ball with FIFA
October 22, 2008 By W.Ż.    
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After an acrimonious public standoff, the Polish government has patched up its rift with the national soccer association, warding off the prospect of Poland being excluded from international games. Meanwhile, the national soccer team won a World Cup 2010 qualifier against the Czech Republic, only to suffer a bizarre defeat against long-shot Slovakia a few days later.

In response to pressure from international soccer organizations, Polish sports minister Mirosław Drzewiecki Oct. 6 promised to withdraw an official "administrator" from the Polish soccer association (PZPN). As a result, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) backpedaled on their threats to suspend Polish teams from international games and take away Poland's right to hold the Euro 2012 European soccer championships alongside Ukraine.

The Polish Olympic Committee's Court of Sports Arbitration appointed Robert Zawłocki as official "administrator" of the PZPN a week before. The move was made at Drzewiecki's request on the basis of an audit the sports ministry had conducted in August and September.

Zawłocki suspended the association's board citing "numerous irregularities" including allegations of corruption in the PZPN's work.

The suspension of the statutory authorities of the Polish soccer association provoked the wrath of the international and European soccer authorities. FIFA and the European governing body, UEFA, did not recognize Zawłocki and gave Poland until noon of Oct. 6 to remove him as "administrator." Unless Poland canceled its decision to appoint him to the role, they said, all World Cup qualifiers to be played by the Polish national team would be canceled and Poland could also be deprived of the right to host the Euro 2012 championships.

At 11:15 a.m. on Oct. 6, the Polish soccer association received a letter from Drzewiecki accepting a compromise under which the Polish soccer association undertook to "address all the irregularities" revealed in the audit, while the minister promised to ask the Arbitration Court to remove Zawłocki. Three days later, Zawłocki packed his bags.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said he was satisfied with the compromise worked out in Poland, and UEFA took back its threat to deprive Poland of the right to host Euro 2012.

Meanwhile, the Polish national soccer team won their Oct. 11 World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic, a team that is ranked much higher than Poland by FIFA.

Playing before a capacity crowd at the Chorzów stadium in southern Poland, the Poles won 2-1. The best player of the match was 22-year-old Polish midfielder Jakub Błaszczykowski, who in the 27th minute assisted in a goal from Paweł Brożek. Then, in the 53rd minute, Błaszczykowski scored himself, lobbing the ball over Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech. The Czechs, currently number eight in the FIFA standings-while the Polish team ranks only 30th-managed to score in the 87th minute.

After the Chorzów match, Poland retained its top spot in World Cup qualifying group three, tying with Slovenia.

Four days later in Bratislava, the Polish team got a cold shower in a match against Slovakia. In the 70th minute, Poland took the lead after a goal from Euzebiusz Smolarek, but the Slovaks equalized in the 85th minute and followed up with a winner a minute later. Poland lost the match despite frantic efforts to equalize in the last few minutes.

To make matters worse, Polish fans were involved in a string of scuffles with Slovak supporters and the local police.

After the defeat in Bratislava, Poland slipped to number two in the group standings, behind Slovakia. Slovenia dropped to number three after losing to the Czech Republic 0-1. The other competitors in the group are Northern Ireland and San Marino.

Only the winner of the group will advance to the World Cup finals in South Africa in 2010, while the four second best teams from all nine qualifying groups will have a chance to make it to the finals in the playoffs stage.

Poland will play its next World Cup qualifier in Northern Ireland March 28.
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