There is always an air of expectation on the host nation, and Euro 2012 is no exception.
International fever has hit the streets of Warsaw and you cannot blame the Polish supporters for getting excited about their side’s chances at the tournament.
The options available for Franciszek Smuda’s side have improved significantly in recent years, with their squad including talented Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny and a total of eight players plying their trade in the German Bundesliga.
But in particular, the hopes of the Polish side rely on three of their most decorated players over the 2011/12 domestic season: Lukas Piszczek, Jakub Blasczykowski and Robert Lewandowski.
The Polish trio have been integral members of the first-ever double-winning Borussia Dortmund squad, which became just the third side in the club’s history to win back-to-back league championships.
Right-back Piszczek has been in outstanding form this season and could be a contender for one of the most improved players in the Bundesliga. The former Hertha Berlin man has made the full-back position his own.
The 23-time capped Polish international has added a new dimension to his game this season, with an increasing contribution to Dortmund’s attacking moves. His excellent stamina makes him a perfect fit for Jurgen Klopp’s high-pressing, high-tempo culture which is taking German football by storm.
In his first full season at Signal Iduna Park, he missed just one league match in Dortmund’s first championship-winning campaign in nine years. Piszczek was a steady performer at right-back and was dwarfed by a terrific campaign for BVB’s left-sided full-back, Marcel Schmezler.
In his second year in the Ruhr, he played 32 from 34 league games, adding four goals to his career tally, compared with zero the previous campaign. His attacking contribution included seven assists, making him fourth highest in the Dortmund table – three of the top-four being from the Polish national side.
Sticking with Dortmund’s right-hand side, Blaszczykowski has also enjoyed a tremendous ruckrunde (second half of the season), taking advantage of an unfortunate hip injury to teenage sensation Mario Götze. If the 19-year-old attacker had remained fit for the second half of the campaign, then Blaszczykowski likely would have been out-of-favour and warming the bench for the German champions.
There is a hint of irony in the fact that the German national side contains a number of Polish-connected/born players, who could have all been wearing the red of Poland. Instead, there are still doubts over the fitness of Götze but the hosts certainly will not care because the 26-year-old Polish captain has flourished in his absence. Blaszczykowski has made 29 league appearances in total this season – including, 16 of the 17 matches in the ruckrunde.
The small right-sided winger has created a superb partnership with countryman Piszczek, with “Kuba” creating nine goals and scoring another six for Dortmund. An interesting pattern to keep an eye on will be the link-up play between the duo with Blasczykowski almost hogging the right touchline to stretch opposition defences and allowing the strong-running Piszczek to make runs into the right-attacking channel.
The player who will benefit most is the in-form Dortmund striker, Robert Lewandowski. Similar to Blaszczykowski, Lewandowski relied on an injury to one of Borussia’s key men to stake a claim for a place in Klopp’s starting line-up. The £4m signing in 2010 rarely featured as a striker in his first season but instead became a make-shift attacking-midfielder when Shinji Kagawa was ruled out for half of the season.
In the summer of 2011, Paraguayan Lucas Barrios suffered a hamstring injury at the Copa America which paved the way for a rare sustained run in the side as a centre-forward. The former Lech striker hit 22 goals in 34 league matches but arguably more impressive has been his tidy link-up play to bring others into the game. Lewandowski’s goals have been a welcome and important factor in Dortmund’s first-ever double-winning season but his short-passing and quick movement has alerted the likes of FC Bayern, Arsenal and Manchester United.
The 23-year-old’s confidence could not be much higher with Lewandowski leaving Berlin with the DFB Pokal – and the match-ball after a devastating hat-trick in Dortmund’s 5-2 win over FC Bayern. In his last two appearances for Dortmund this season, he hit five goals combined and was ‘Man of the Match’ against SC Freiburg on the final day of the Bundesliga campaign.
The White Eagles have had a far from glittering international history, going into this summer’s championships in 65th place in the FIFA rankings. At FIFA World Cup’s, they have not got past the First Round since 1986 but enjoyed two third-placed finishes in ’74 and’82.
Quite incredibly, this is just their second visit to the European Championship’s after failing to qualify for 44 years before dropping out at the Group Stages in 2008.
The co-host nation will be eager to win at the Euro finals for the first time in their history, but with an impressive array of talent in their ranks, they might be looking further for an extended stay in the competition.
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