The celebrations of Euro 2012 ended prematurely for Poland. As the party finally came to a close in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, both home nations were left with a large tidying-up job -- both on the streets and on the field.
After finishing bottom of a manageable Group A, manager Franciszek Smuda lost his job, taking Poland to a crossroads they have largely failed to depart from. Waldemar Fornalik was given the reins, with the aim of phasing in a new generation of young players. Yet now, having failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, and bringing back 34-year-old Mariusz Lewandowski at the base of midfield, Fornalik looks set to lose his job.
The narratives in the Polish media now focus on the route that FA president Zbigniew Boniek should take in appointing the team's new manager. The whirl of intrigue, summarised by Przeglad Sportowy, focuses on the diverging schools of thought between sourcing a manager from Poland and sourcing one from farther afield. Rumours abound that a meeting between Boniek and Gornik Zabrze manager Adam Nawalka have already taken place. Yet there is a feeling that this would be akin to throwing out a Starburst in favour of a Fruitella.
Fornalik, though, has this game in charge, perhaps a final bow to cast internal politics aside and select the team that he truly wants to field. Despite what appears to be a tense relationship between the player and manager, the team most likely to damage England would include Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski.
For anyone who witnessed Lewandowski's masterful performance against Real Madrid in last season's Champions League semifinal, the danger he poses is well known. Having dominated more talented defenders than Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, it would usually seem effortlessly logical to nod toward a Lewandowski goal, yet goals in a white and red shirt have been harder to come by.
Just three goals for Poland since Euro 2012 illustrates that frustrating international performances aren't curses reserved solely for English players who excel in the Champions League. Form here, though, may be less about talent and more about attitude, with Lewandowksi playful when asked about Poland's recent problems. "It is difficult to explain what is lacking here," he said. "Me and the coach? I play for the team and that means I also play for the coach."
Putting aside the narrative on internal tensions and the search for a new manager, the Polish media has today featured the personnel problems England face in the full-back areas. Sport.Pl in particular have investigated England's "major problems" at the back, highlighting the injury to Ashley Cole and the suspension of Kyle Walker, following his yellow card on Friday.
Faced with the task of overcoming England's stand-in full-backs will be captain Kuba Blaszczykowski and Waldemar Sobota, operating from the right and the left, respectively. Blaszczykowski, a key member of Juergen Klopp's lung-busting Dortmund side, is a winger renowned for his searing pace. Leighton Baines may be no slouch, but he wouldn't be described as express pace, something Blaszczykowski possesses in abundance, and will be crucial in trying to penetrate the England back-line with swift counterattacks.
Sobota is a slightly different prospect. A more delicate player than Blaszczykowski, the Club Brugge midfielder, will look to dart inside from his position on the channel, making him perhaps a more modern winger in terms of playing style. Also blessed with the visibly outward attitude of being ready to take on the world on his own, Sobota is unlikely to be affected by nerves at Wembley.
Dynamism in midfield areas:
The main way in which Fornalik attempted to move Poland on from their post-Euro 2012 crossroads was through rejuvenating the central areas of the midfield, before regressing to type with Maruisz Lewandowski on Friday.
Fornalik's rejuvenation of the midfield may have failed to cement a path to Brazil, but it did allow the likes of PEC Zwolle midfielder Mateusz Klich, and Udinese's Piotr Zielinski a chance to prove their worth at the international level. A project that will benefit Poland in the coming years, even if any tangible gains are yet to be found.
Klich, aged 23, is a lanky midfielder with an eye for the goal, improving with each display for Zwolle, the dark horses of this seasons Eredivisie championship. The former Wolfsburg midfielder has represented Poland at every level from Under-18s upwards yet isn't the typical playmaker that would be associated with football played between the lines. With his tall physique, baggy shirts and shorter socks, Klich is scruffy yet effective.
Nineteen-year-old Zielinski, on the other hand, is the type of attacking midfield playmaker who's playing style rests easily on the eye. At 5' 9", the blonde-haired player comes with all the delicate tricks and flicks a modern playmaker needs to possess. Often the architect of the final ball before a goal, Zielinski missed out on Friday, but with three goals in six Poland appearances, it is thought that Fornalik will dispense with one of his defensive midfielders to give him a starting berth.
And how can England hurt Poland?
The task for Roy Hodgson's side seems quite simple. On paper, England look to have a more effective unit, better players -- Lewandowksi and Blaszczykowski aside -- and the advantage of upward morale.
Poland, though, are particularly weak in defensive areas, compounded with the problem position of left-back. Jakub Wawrzyniak and Sebastian Boenisch have been involved in a merry-go-round of defensive mistakes. Fornalik will select one of them, beginning with Wawrzyniak, before a costly error sees Boenisch given the job, before a costly error sees Wawrzyniak given the job, before a ad infinitum.
More generally, though, conversations with Sport.Pl journalist Michal Zachodny have produced a damning reflection on this Poland side. "The team have no schemes and are lacking a basic knowledge of tactics, often losing their shape," I was told. "Even though they've improved, it's not going to be enough to match England."