Euro 2012 co-hosts will be hoping to progress from the group stages to really give the home fans something to shout about.
Proud as punch to be the co-hosts, Poland still won’t want to be as accommodating as Austria and Switzerland proved in 2008 when both of the host nations were eliminated in the group stages and in only their second European championships since 1960, Poland may just have drawn the group to prosper.
It’s impossible to gauge just how much the lack of competitive fixtures are likely to affect any nation who haven’t had to endure a qualifying campaign with so many international managers choosing to rotate or experiment in friendlies for obvious reasons but it doesn’t do punters any favours in weighing up the 3/1 on offer for Poland to top a thoroughly mediocre-looking group including Greece, the Czech Republic and group favourites Russia. Franciszek Smuda’s side haven’t made a very convincing case for themselves in those friendlies either as they’ve drawn with finalists Germany and Portugal, earned eye-catching victories over Argentina and the Ivory Coast but suffered defeat to Italy, France and lowly Lithuania to leave them with a truly average record in the build up to the finals.
A fervent home crowd, and a striker in good form, can account for much in a tournament – Alan Shearer’s goals propelled England to the semi-finals of Euro 96 – and while a booming support is assured there will be considerable pressure on Robert Lewandowski to become his side’s talisman, not to mention a hero in his homeland, over the summer months. The striker has been in fantastic form for Borussia Dortmund in his first two seasons playing in Germany and has over forty caps for the national team despite only being 23, he also has the ability to shine on any stage but will be hopeful of a good start in the opening game of the tournament against Greece on June 8. Should he get off the mark in his home city Lewandowski and his team-mates should be in fine fettle when they take on group favorites Russia four days later.
Another performer crucial to Poland’s prospects is Jakub Blaszczykowski who is also Lewandowski’s team-mate at the Bundesliga champions and the fulcrum of the national side’s attacking play. Twice Polish player of the year and now his country’s captain, Blaszczykowski brings his team-mates into play and his late runs into the box and threat from distance gives the Poles an extra dimension to their play. With Lucasz Piszczek at the back completing the Dortmund triumvirate which make up an impressive spine, all well-versed in high-pressure games having played in a title-winning side in one of Europe’s big leagues and at the top level in the Champions League. Given that quality of personnel, Poland will certainly be – to quote that poet for the ages, Danny Dyer – “nobody’s mugs” and are well worth a punt to qualify at slightly below evens to make the quarter-finals.
Beyond that Poland will do well to progress any further as they look likely to face a higher standard of opposition than any of their group opponents in the knockout stages regardless of who comes out of Group B, though their Dortmund posse could take the tournament by storm en route.