It’s been a tumultuous period for the Polish National team over the last few months.
Since their disappointing exit from their own UEFA Euro 2012 party, we’ve seen a change of manager, a change of personnel, and a few uninspiring performances. However, with new boss Waldemar Fornalik not afraid to pick in-form players over the established stars, and new crop of youth players being developed, a small amount of optimism surrounding the national team is beginning to develop.
With Franciszek Smuda heading out of the door following Poland’s Euro 2012 exit, former Ruch Chorzów coach Fornalik has quickly set about making his own mark on the Białe-Orły. After a friendly loss to Estonia, and qualifying ties against Montenegro and Moldova, Fornalik’s squad for the England clash looks very different to the 23-man collection which Smuda called-up for Euro 2012, with only twelve of those men in contention for Tuesday’s clash.
Following his first three games in charge, Fornalik axed a few of Smuda’s squad owing to both poor form, and a lack of performances at club level. Former Werder Bremen left-back Sebastian Boenisch was dropped following his release from the club, whilst former Celtic striker Paweł Brożek was also left off of Fornalik’s list after his move to Spanish second-tier side Recreativo Huelva. Lech Poznań midfielder Rafał Murawski was also left out, however he has temporarily found his way back in to the fold as Eugen Polański was forced to leave the squad for personal reasons. The 30-year-old Murawski’s return may be only temporarily though, as Mainz midfielder Polański could be back for the World Cup Qualifier on Tuesday.
Injuries have also contributed towards Fornalik’s squad selection, with first-choice keepers Wojciech Szczęsny and Łukasz Fabiański both ruled out of contention. In their place, the manager has opted for two custodians earning great reviews at their respective clubs. 21-year-old Górnik Zabrze star Łukasz Skorupski has earned his first call-up, after helping his side to a seven-game unbeaten start to the Ekstraklasa season; and is widely touted as a future Poland number one.
However, Skorupski is likely to start the game as the third choice goalkeeper, as a man currently rejuvenating his career in the Championship is battling with Przemysław Tytoń for the number one jersey. Back into the national squad following a two-year exile under former boss Smuda, 30-year-old Tomasz Kuszczak’s return to the fold has been widely awaited by many fans; however he may have to wait for a starting berth, ans Euro 2012 penalty hero Tytoń took the gloves in Friday’s friendly against South Africa – giving a faultless performance.
It isn’t just in the nets where the White Eagles are struggling for fitness – a couple of late injuries have forced Fornalik to dig into his reserves list for replacements.
With captain Jakub Błaszczykowski ruled out for six weeks after picking up an ankle injury playing for Dortmund, 22-year-old Legia Warszawa midfielder Jakub Kosecki – son of former Poland international and PZPN Presidential candidate Roman – was drafted into the 23 after his recent brace helped Legia defeat fierce rivals Wisła Kraków. But with Kosecki now confirmed out through an injury of his own, another young midfielder plying his trade in the capital, is almost certain to take the captain’s position in the side.
20-year-old Paweł Wszołek has been in blistering form for Warsaw’s second club Polonia this season, with seven goals and four assists in his nine league and cup games so far. One of the Ekstraklasa’s stand-out performers so far this term, Wszołek is the man who slots into the right midfield slot most comfortably. Playing 45 minutes against South Africa, the youngster looked a seasoned professional despite it being just his first cap. Fornalik’s decision to bring him off at half-time was clearly with one eye on Tuesday’s clash, especially as Wszołek had been carrying a slight injury of his own.
Another late call-up to the squad is Górnik Zabrze’s highly-rated striker Arkadiusz Milik. The 18-year-old was drafted into Fornalik’s squad when former Southampton striker Marek Saganowski was diagnosed with a heart condition just over a week ago. With “Sagan” now contemplating ending his career, Milik – who has five goals in seven league games – has a real opportunity to make a position in the squad for himself.
With main striker Lewandowski rested against South Africa, Arkadiusz Piech (Ruch Chorzów) and Artur Sobiech (Hannover 96) were thrust into the starting eleven; and although both spurned chances which they seemingly would have finished on any other day, along with Milik, they give the coach other options up front. Whilst Fornalik will likely plump for the off-form Lewy against England, the pressure is now on as there are three in-form-at-club-level goalscorers waiting in the wings – something which Poland haven’t had for a while.
Whilst the 1-0 win against South Africa was made harder-work than it really should have been, it has given Fornalik answers to go with the many questions which were floating around following the numerous injuries in the squad. With Fornalik’s starting eleven now surely imprinted in his memory, the task comes in getting them all to perform together. If they can manage that, Poland could prove to be a very stern test for Roy Hodgson’s men.
Possible Starting XI
Tytoń; Piszczek, Wasilewski(c), Glik, Wawrzyniak; Borysiuk, Krychowiak; Wszołek, Obraniak, Grosicki; Lewandowski.
(Photo credit: Cha giÃ JosÃ© via Flickr)
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