Doubts linger over Poland Euro 2012 squad
As they brace to face Portugal in what looks likely to be one of their toughest encounters in the buildup to Euro 2012, co-hosts Poland say their squad for June's tournament is all but ready, but experts have big doubts.
With just 100 days left until the European championships, the Poles on Wednesday take on tournament qualifiers Portugal in a match that also marks the opening game in Warsaw's brand-new National Stadium.
Like fellow hosts Ukraine, Poland have an automatic berth at the 16-nation championships and have had to rely on friendlies to get ready.
Having flunked their qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup, they will not have played a competitive match since the end of 2009 by the time they kick off Euro 2012 against Greece in Warsaw on June 8.
Their friendlies since then have been patchy, upping the ante for manager Franciszek Smuda, a gruff Pole who was put in charge after Dutchman Leo Beenhakker failed to steer the squad to the World Cup.
The often-criticised Smuda reckons his Euro 2012 squad is now in shape.
"The basic 11 is ready. And for the full squad, I'm at about 90 to 95 percent," he said.
The weight of history is heavy, as home fans pine for Polish football's long-lost glory days of Olympic gold in 1972, third place in the 1974 World Cup, Olympic silver in 1976 and a further World Cup third in 1982.
In a sign of how far Poland have fallen since that era, they now lie 70th in the global rankings of world football's governing body FIFA, compared to Portugal's sixth.
In addition, the weaknesses of the domestic league has been underscored by the dominance of foreign-based players.
Sixteen of the names on Smuda's 22-man list for the Portugal match play abroad, including seven in neighbouring Germany, four in France and two in England.
"The team's strength lies in its leaders: Jakub Blaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski and Lukasz Piszczek, who are shining at Borussia Dortmund, and Arsenal's goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny," Polish football blogger and scout Michal Zachodny told AFP.
Striker Lewandowski, midfielder Blaszczykowski and defender Piszczek have been key in lifting Dortmund to the top of the Bundesliga.
The club's manager Juergen Klopp rates Lewandowski as "the most exciting Polish player of the past 10 to 15 years".
Szczesny is Arsenal's first-choice keeper and has staked his claim as heir to a line of Poles in goal that includes 1970s icon Jan Tomaszewski, or the later generation's Jerzy Dudek and Artur Boruc.
Dynamic duo Lewandowski and Blaszczykowski can count on attacking midfielder Ludovic Obraniak, is on top form after transferring across the French league from Lille to Bordeaux.
Lille still have a man in the squad in the shape of striker Ireneusz Jelen (OSC Lille), alongside Auxerre midfielder Dariusz Dudka and defender Damien Perquis of Sochaux.
French-born Obraniak and Perquis are among a handful of foreign players with Polish roots who have opted for the white and red shirt.
But critics say the squad has failed to gel.
"Poland can count on solid, skilled individuals, but the team doesn't seem up to decent collective play or an interesting game plan," said Zachodny.
"It's a characterless team, with a chaotic playing style based on counter-attacks," he added.
Off the pitch, the squad's image isn't helped by corruption scandals swirling around Polish club football and the national association in recent years, sparking loathing among a swathe of supporters, as well as match-day hooliganism that puts off some fans.
Recent new revelations about a 2006 match-fixing scandal involving Pisczek at his one-time Polish club Zaglebie Lubin have returned to haunt the team.
"At key moments, a squad that lacks morale could crumble," warned Zachodny.
After Portugal, Poland's final pre-tournament friendlies are against Latvia on May 22, Slovakia on June 26 and Andorra on June 2.
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