Arguably the biggest game in Group A: Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland vs Russia. This game will decide who will have the best chance leaving the group and move on to the quarter-finals. It won't be easy, as seen with Russia's 4-1 stomping over Czech Republic, but Poland have shown in this tournament that they know how to play as well. In addition to the football aspect of this game, there will be strong political overtones riding - like any other match when Poland plays Russia or Germany.
Super Express, a Polish tabloid, had Poland's coach Franciszek Smuda on its latest cover riding horseback, carrying a sword and dressed in a 1920 Polish army uniform, harking back to the country's victorious battle against the Bolshevik army, known as the Miracle on the Vistula. The headline read "Faith, Hope, Smuda", playing off the old Polish army saying "Faith, Home, Motherland."
"In 1920 (the Russians) also thought (they would win) ... they got a spanking," the tabloid said. "(Tuesday) they will get the taste of defeat again because Poland's team will show them Miracle on the Vistula 2."
In a press conference, Smuda stated he was not interested in the historical and political issues between the countries, and would rather focus on the football aspect.
"We in general are not thinking about this at all," he revealed in a press conference. "We are thinking about football... what takes place on the streets, we are less interested in that. We are concentrating on the game."
Football or not, the fans of both nations have a different idea regarding the game. Be sure to expect a heated emotional fixture between two historical rival nations.
Coach Franciszek Smuda is reportedly making some changes for the game with Russia. Przemysław Tyton will hold the fort in net for the red-carded Wojciech Szczesny, and Dariusz Dudka will replace Maciej Rybus. This change clearly shows that Smuda will be strengthening his side's defensive build - no surprise considering the opponent is best when attacking. Three central defensive midfielders may perhaps be a risky move, but the Polish defence showed in the last game that it clearly needs help.
Russia's defence isn't the best, so I also expect Smuda to add some more attacking flavour into his squad for the game. This means putting Adrian Mierzejewski in the middle for Ludovic Obraniak, whose creativity could cause problems for Dick Advocaat's team. Kamil Grosicki is another possible candidate to find some playing time in the game after featuring with Smuda in a recent press conference.
With regards to the defence, Smuda will likely keep the same set-up as before. Sebastian Boenisch may have been the weakest link in the Polish defence, but Smuda will continue to favour him over Jakub Wawrzyniak. Rafal Murawski and Eugen Polanski will also have to enjoy a strong game; as the two central defensive midfielders expected to start, they will provide the first line of the defence. Polanski played really well against the Greeks, so there is not much concern about him against Russia; it is only Murawski who is questionable. Can he play a full 90 minutes of convincing football against Russia? Smuda believes so, we will have to take his word on that.
The favourites of Group A, and with good reason. With a 3-0 win against Italy before the tournament, and a 4-1 thumping over the Czechs in their first game, the Russians are clearly a force to be reckoned with.
Russia play in a Dutch-influenced style, which their coach, Dick Advocaat, implemented. This means they are very dangerous on the attack, especially on the wings. Andrei Arshavin will have trouble dealing with Lukasz Piszczek, but Alan Dzagoev will be a living nightmare for Boenisch, who will need help from his partners in defence to stop him. Poland's left back was the weakest link against Greece, with both goals resulting from that flank, so it should come as no surprise that Advocaat's men will be trying to take advantage of that as well.
A draw in a match against Russia would be a good result, but Poland will definitely be going for the win - not only to make up for the draw against Greece last week, but due to pride. Anything less on Polish soil and in the country's capital, Warsaw, would be unforgivable for Poland fans, and would see the co-host's chances of progress left to mathematics.
If Poland come out guns blazing like they did against the Greeks - and maintain their approach for the majority of the match this time and not only for the first 30 minutes - then I would not be surprised with a 2-1 win for Poland. Crazier things have been known to happen in past Euros.
Poland ended their Euro 2012 opener against the Greeks with a 1-1 draw, a result that has the nation feeling uneasy now. This is because the Poles no longer have their fate in their own hands, and will have to count on results from their group rivals to have a chance to progress. However, let's not go overboard here: it was only a draw, so Poland still have some say on whether they move on or not. To do so they will need more than what they received from Smuda on Friday.
The entire second half, Poland coach Smuda looked like a deer trapped in the headlights. His tactics for the first half were good, and were well played. But in the second half everything changed, Poland started look more vulnerable than dangerous, players couldn't make runs anymore, poor passing etc... in these cases, a coach would start to make some smart substitutions to get the game back on track. This never happened, and Smuda only stood there watching his side slowly sink like the Titanic and clueless on what to do about it. Greece coach Ferando Santos saw his side struggling so he switched things up, and that proved to be a total game-changer. What does Smuda do when he sees an invisible Rybus, Murawski and poor Boenisch? Nothing but hope things will get magically better.
Poland, a team that have had nothing but clean sheets in the recent friendlies heading up to UEFA Euro 2012, concede to Greece of all teams. Greece. The team that scored the fewest goals to have qualified for the Euros. Other than the first half, during which Poland looked like they were going to take the game by storm and win 3-0, nothing but frustration was met in the second half. It was certainly a tale of two halves, and felt like two different Poland teams played in each.
Lukasz Piszczek: The best player for Poland, hands down. The Greeks couldn't get past him, and they couldn't hold him down on the right flank. Due to this, Piszczek was given plenty of freedom on the right to torture the Greece defence and bombard the penalty box with crosses. The Borussia Dortmund defender was one of the few Polish players in the second half who still looked quality all the way. He balled so hard, no wonder Real Madrid want to sign him.
Przemyslaw Tyton: Not really having much to do, he did what was asked of him. Coming on cold at such a crucial moment and the first thing to do is make the biggest save of his entire career? Brilliant. Poland could have easily lost the game if that penalty was scored, and Szczesny would likely never play in the tournament anymore. Luckily, Tyton held his nerve and kept Poland in the game having also made history at the same time. Good work from him and I expect him to ride off this emotion in the game against Russia.
Left-back problem: Poland don't really have anyone better to play at left-back than Sebastian Boenisch, who today showed everyone he isn't the same player. Complete lack of pace, miscommunication with Perquis in the centre, always let the Greek crosses in, and of course kept them onside for that penalty. On the bench there is Jakub Wawrzyniak, who actually played for his club this season, but Smuda was stubborn in playing Boenisch over him anyway... only because he went through such a song and dance to persuade Boenisch to play for Poland. It would look foolish of him to not play him after all that but, on the other hand, he looks foolish for starting and playing Boenisch for the full 90. Will he keep him for the next game? Who’s to say what he’s planning on doing. If he does keep him, then Dzagoev will destroy him the way he played in the opener.
Wojciech Szczesny: Certainly had a game to forget. I said it before, and I'll say it again. Smuda made a huge error blacklisting Artur Boruc, and putting all his trust in Szczesny - who, don't get me wrong, is also a quality goalkeeper... but not someone you would play over Boruc. Szczesny is young, and is still learning the ropes. He's made plenty of class saves for Arsenal this season but also quite a few blunders as well. Not experienced enough to be playing at this level, not with all the expectations and pressure riding on his back. His failure to claim a cross from Vasilis Torosidis resulted in the ball falling at the feet of Salpingidis to score Greece's equaliser and he then brought down the same player with a rash tackle for a penalty. Now he's out for the Russia encounter, and Poland "hero" Tyton is in.
Poland can take a positive first half from this match, showing the world that they in fact know how to play. Robert Lewandowski also showed he can be dangerous if his team are willing to play hard and smart. Against the Russians, Smuda is going to definitely have to make some changes, and I'm not only talking about pre-game! Will definitely want to see Dudka, Grosicki and Wolski play a part next game.
The UEFA EURO 2012 opening day is finally upon us. The spirits and energy in Poland and Ukraine are very high right now, especially in Warsaw where the opening game between Poland-Greece is going to take place.
Poland's players are trying to keep composed while feeling immense pressure from their country to perform positively and start the EURO off with 3 points. Coach Franciszek Smuda is undoubtedly confident with his side that he has prepared in the span of 2.5 years - as he stated in a press conference on Thursday.
"Am I going to sleep well tonight? Yes, I surely will," he said. "Just before very important matches I have trouble sleeping, but this team has convinced me that I can rely on them; they have convinced me in every way during the last two and a half years. I just hope that together we will achieve what we desire."
Poland will start things off with a 4-2-3-1, looking to rely on it's attacking wings to help out the lone striker up front. Smuda is keen to using this system as it makes the most of the Polish Borussia Dortmind trio's abilities that worked so well in the Bundesliga - with Robert Lewandowski up front, Jakub Blaszczykowski in midfield, and Lukasz Piszczek in defense.
Both sides have a record of strong defenses in the coming to UEFA EURO 2012, so no one should really expect a goal fest. However, I do not see the Poles screwing up in the first match (like past generations). It's going to be a match where whoever scores first will win. Watch for Robert Lewandowski to sneak one in past the Greeks for Poland to take the match 1-0.
Poland capped their Euro 2012 warm-up with a 4-0 win against minnows Andorra, with goals from foreign-based stars Ludovic Obraniak and Robert Lewandowski. Truth be told, the game looked more like a scrum than an actual friendly match, but was an expected win nonetheless.
Most people in Poland were somewhat surprised of how some of the reserves played in the second half against the Andorrans. I believe this hilarious clip of a Polish national team shooting practice session courtesy of Sport.pl journalist Michal Pol very much highlights the problem.
The video takes place at Polonia Warszawa's stadium, which is the official base for Poland for the European championship. During an open practice session, coach Tomasz Frankowski has some of the reserves practice taking shots at Grzegorz Sandomierski. The end result? A rather comical one, with 90% of the shots missing the target.
Pol, alongside with all the other journalists on the scene are shocked by what they are seeing. One journalist reminds Pol of a training session he visited on Sunday which was even worse. Reason? On that day the wooden block dummies were placed outside the penalty box. Guess that didn't turn out as well as planned, eh?
Luckily, the majority of the starting XI were not at this practice but were working out at the gym instead. Maciej Rybus was the only first team player taking part in this practice. Here’s hoping his shooting will be better on Friday.