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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » June 29, 2012
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The Bubble Bursts
June 29, 2012   
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Poland’s collective dream of a return to the footballing glory days of the 1970s and 1980s ended the evening of June 16 in Wroc³aw. After a lackluster performance, the Polish squad lost 1-0 to the Czech Republic and crashed out of Euro 2012, finishing last in their group.

International football federation FIFA’s official rankings turned out to be pretty accurate. Poland are ranked 62nd, while their group rivals—Russia, Greece and the Czech Republic—are 13th, 15th and 27th respectively. If anyone has a reason to despair it is the Russians who, despite theoretically being the best team in the group, dropped out after a draw with Poland and a sensational defeat by Greece—and this after Russia demolished the Czech Republic 4-1 in their first match. The Czechs finished in first place in the group.

That the Russians are wringing their hands is no surprise. In Poland’s case, however, it’s more a case of the bubble bursting—a bubble of groundless optimism that had been pumped up by the media, the coach, the players themselves and, last but not least, by a large group of public figures. Virtually every politician, artist and celebrity that offered a soundbite to the press deemed it necessary to publicly profess their confidence in the Poland team and in coach Franciszek Smuda. Almost no one who was asked to predict the result of the three matches played by the Poles would go on record as saying they expected a defeat or even a draw.

This demonstration of patriotically-correct optimism was punctured, but only briefly, by the poor showing in the opening match with Greece, when Poland were lucky to get away with a 1-1 draw. The flags waved with renewed vigor after the draw with Russia, who were group favorites. It was the best of the three matches Poland played in the tournament. After that valiant performance, everything still seemed possible—a win against the Czech Republic, a place in the quarterfinals and then who knows, perhaps even a glorious final in Kiev.

A few years back, one sports commentator summed up the state of Polish football by saying: “In the days when Polish teams were chalking up successes, Polish fans used to chant ‘Poland, Goal!’ and ‘Poland Onward!’ But for several decades now during matches and afterwards, what we most often hear is ‘Poland, It’s All Right’, which is meant to encourage the players to continue battling when they are losing.”

After Euro 2012, that diagnosis is still bang up to date.

Poland now faces qualifiers for the World Cup, which will be held in Brazil in 2014. The Polish squad’s group rivals will be England, Montenegro, Moldova, San Marino and Ukraine. Three of these teams are higher in the FIFA rankings than Poland—England in sixth place, Montenegro in 50th place, and Ukraine in 52nd place, with San Marino the clear outsiders. The first qualifiers are scheduled for September. By that time, the new Poland coach—most likely Smuda will have been replaced—will have to come up with a miracle and reinvent the national team, all the while facing a barrage of criticism for every decision he makes.

There is at least one positive thing from Poland dropping out of Euro 2012. Polish politicians will be able to return to their everyday activities, those that voters expect of them, instead of spending their time making public pronouncements of questionable authority about football.
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