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The Warsaw Voice » Business » May 31, 2012
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Underdogs Aim to Surprise
May 31, 2012   
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The entire Polish national soccer team is together worth less than Portugal ace Cristiano Ronaldo, while Poland is the lowest ranked team playing in Euro 2012. But Poland fans hope the red-and-whites, as the national squad are known, powered by a talented trio of Borussia Dortmund players, will pull off a few surprises on their home turf.

Against the odds
Poland is the lowest ranked team among those playing in the tournament. Soccer’s international governing body FIFA has ranked Poland 65th worldwide, while its opponents in the first stage of the tournament are ranked much higher: Russia 11th, Greece 14th, and the Czech Republic 26th.

The line-up
Most of this country’s 38 million or so inhabitants think of themselves as soccer experts, but it’s hard to find two who have identical views. Still, few fans were surprised when Poland coach Franciszek Smuda May 2 announced a provisional 26-man squad for Euro 2012. As expected, the list includes both seasoned players and young up-and-comers who put in a good performance in the spring round of the Polish premier Ekstraklasa league, though they have never played for the national squad so far.

The provisional Polish squad for Euro 2012 includes goalkeepers Łukasz Fabiański, Wojciech Szczęsny, and Przemysław Tytoń; defenders Sebastian Boenisch, Kamil Glik, Tomasz Jodłowiec, Marcin Kamiński, Damien Perquis, Łukasz Piszczek, Marcin Wasilewski, Jakub Wawrzyniak, and Grzegorz Wojtkowiak; midfielders Jakub Błaszczykowski, Dariusz Dudka, Kamil Grosicki, Adam Matuszczyk, Adrian Mierzejewski, Rafał Murawski, Ludovic Obraniak, Eugen Polanski, Maciej Rybus, and Rafał Wolski; and strikers Paweł Brożek, Michał Kucharczyk, Robert Lewandowski and Artur Sobiech.

Smuda also has a list of seven standby players that could still be included before the tournament begins if others suffer injuries, for example.

The list of players left out by Smuda includes Sebastian Mila, Euzebiusz Smolarek, Tomasz Frankowski, and goalie Artur Boruc, the best Polish player at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, who is in an open conflict with Smuda—even though he has publicly apologized to the coach and expressed his desire to return to the team. Smuda also left out FC Cologne’s Sławomir Peszko, who several weeks earlier was involved in an alcohol-related incident after a match in Germany; he was taken to a police station and subsequently a drunk tank after acting up in a taxi cab. This was the second time Peszko was involved in a major alcohol-related scandal. After the first incident, Smuda dropped Peszko from the squad but later reinstated him after the latter apologized and promised to shape up.

Fit to play?
Even though Smuda’s choices raised little controversy, this does not mean there was no debate over whether he made the right decisions. Some commentators insisted that, instead of rookie Michał Kucharczyk, the coach should have taken on Arkadiusz Piech or Piotr Celeban, for example. Some tried to defend Peszko, arguing that if Smuda really wanted to press ahead with his anti-booze crusade and use drinking, or rather lack of it, as a key selection criterion, no one would be left to play for the Polish national team.

Until recently it seemed that the mainstays of the Polish squad would mainly be Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczęsny, a safe pair of hands, and the Borussia Dortmund trio—Błaszczykowski, Lewandowski and Piszczek—who were instrumental in their club becoming the champions of Germany and the winners of the German Cup. And while the trio’s form raises no worries, reports from London—where Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has admitted that Szczęsny has been struggling with a shoulder injury for five weeks and receiving strong painkilling injections in order to be able to play—give cause for concern.

Everyone is also wondering if the amazing form of Robert Lewandowski, which peaked at the end of the Bundesliga season, would not peter out before Euro 2012 gets under way and whether the player would be able to recharge his batteries on time. One thing is certain: thanks to his phenomenal performance on German pitches, Lewandowski’s value has increased immensely. And if he does well in the tournament, it will grow still further. The same is true of Łukasz Piszczek, who is reportedly being eyed by Real Madrid.

Command center
Poland were one of the last squads to notify UEFA about their final choice of their Euro 2012 team base. Eventually, the red-and-whites chose the five-star Hyatt Regency Warsaw hotel in the city center. The Poles will be occupying the entire second floor of the hotel. They will be living in Deluxe King-standard single rooms. Coach Franciszek Smuda’s suite is almost twice as large, with a king-size bed, a living room and a large work desk with high-speed internet access. This is the third most luxurious suite at the hotel, after the presidential and diplomatic suites. Estimates suggest that the Poles will be paying 24,000 euros for each day of their stay at the Hyatt.

The Polish squad’s decision to be based in the city center has aroused controversy—other teams have decided to get away from big-city noise in favor of peace and quiet and lower fan pressure. For example, the Spaniards will be living in the small town of Gniewino, and the Portuguese in Opalenica.

However, the coach and his aides insist they are not afraid of either fans or journalists, who will likely be besieging the hotel. The hotel managers and soccer bosses say they are confident that no one will disturb the players as they prepare for matches. Smuda says he is not worried about being in the middle of the big city bustle, adding that the players want to be close to fans and feel the atmosphere of the event.

Agnieszka Dokowicz
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