As the sun begins its descent to the horizon on Tuesday afternoon, the clubs occupying first and second position in the Polish Ekstraklasa will begin to lock horns in the 15,000 capacity Kielc Arena in Kielce. Although the Puchar Polski final between Legia Warszawa and Ruch Chorzów has been dogged by problems since it was announced that the capital’s new Stadion Narodowy wouldn’t be fit to host the prestigious game; it still represents the first silverware of the 2011/12 Polish season.
After the PZPN made the decision to cancel this season’s Super Cup due to the new stadium’s unreadiness to accept large groups of rival supporters, it was only a matter of time before plans for the final of the current edition of the national cup competition were hastily changed. And in early April – with the competition at the semi-final stage – the bright sparks at the national football association decided that the game would take place in the tenth largest ground in the country. On a Tuesday. At Six o’clock in the afternoon.
With many fans of the Ekstraklasa still reeling that their clubs are now forced to play on the occasional Monday nights due to TV schedules, the PZPN’s fixture of the cup final has just added to many fans’ beliefs that the suits that run the game in the country have lost touch with their audience.
But despite the location, the timing, and the whole furore surrounding the PZPN’s attitude to what should be a fantastic advertisement for the Polish game; the stage is now set for the in-form Ruch Chorzów to battle with league leaders Legia, to provide a thrilling encounter.
Current holders Legia go into Tuesday’s tie looking for their 15th Puchar Polski trophy; one that will put them 9 clear of Górnik Zabrze on six. Ruch meanwhile, are tied back in sixth with GKS Katowice, lifting the trophy three times in their eight final appearances. A spell of three trophies in four years between 1994 and 1997 for Legia was interrupted only by Ruch’s last victory in 1996.
Ruch’s last cup final defeat came just three years ago, when they lost 1-0 to Lech Poznań at the Śląski Stadion in Chorzów; whilst Legia’s loss in 2004 – also to Lech – remains the last time that they were to lose at this stage of the competition.
How They Got Here
Legia started their Puchar journey back in September with a 4-1 victory over lowly Rozwoj II Katowice, before a 3-0 win over Ekstraklasa club Widzew Łódź put them into the last eight. After a 4-1 aggregate victory over III Liga minnows Gryf Wejherowo, back-to-back 2-1 wins over I Liga Arka Gdynia put them into Tuesday’s final.
Ruch had a slightly less straightforward run to the final, having been paired with fellow Ekstraklasa clubs in every round except one. An extra-time winner from Paweł Abbott against former club ŁKS Łódź guided Ruch to a last-16 tie with Cracovia. Again held by their opponents at full-time, a last-gasp strike from Marek Zienczuk helped the Niebiescy to progress. Lower-league Ruch Zdzieszowice were next up, and a 6-2 aggregate win set up a semi-final clash with Wisła Kraków.
A comprehensive 3-1 victory over Wisła gave Ruch one foot in the final; but a 3-1 defeat in Kraków meant that a penalty shoot-out was to decide who was to head to Kielce. Wisła midfielder Gervasio Nunez missed the decisive spot-kick, and Ruch’s ninth Puchar final was secured.
Who will win?
If you’re going on recent form, it’s going to be a very tough one to call. Ruch probably have performed slightly better over recent weeks, losing only one game since the turn of the year; but that game was just two weeks ago – against Legia. The Wojskowi meanwhile have lost just two games in the same period; but four draws have meant that their lead at the top of the Ekstraklasa has been cut over the last few weeks.
Both sides will have to deal with suspensions in their respective camps. The unavailability of Legia striker Nacho Novo isn’t a massive blow as the club have plenty of attacking options; however Ruch will be missing their leading scorer Arkadiusz Piech, after his appeal against his yellow card against Wisła was rejected by the PZPN. Maciej Jankowski will now likely be partnered by either Paweł Abbott or Andrzej Niedzielan in the Niebiescy attacking line. Ruch will also be missing Igor Lewczuk and Tomas Josl thanks to accumulated yellow cards in earlier rounds.
Both Legia and Ruch also have injury doubts ahead of the clash. Legia’s Daniel Luboja and Michał Żewłakow face fitness tests before they will be allowed to play, whilst Ruch will be sweating on the fitness of defender Marek Szyndrowski. The latter will definitely be without Zeljko Djokic, who injured his cruciate ligament after scoring the winner against Polonia Warszawa on Friday.
Ekstraklasa leaders Legia will enter the Kielc Arena as favourites for the tie, but could still be suffering the after effects of the weekend’s disappointing loss to Lech. Meanwhile the pressure will be slightly removed from outsiders Ruch, and after Friday’s victory, the underdogs will be full of confidence.
Legia Warszawa: Kuciak – Jędrzejczyk, Astiz, Żewłakow, Wawrzyniak – Kucharczyk, Vrdoljak, Radović, Gol, Wolski – Ljuboja/Blanco
Ruch Chorzów: Pesković – Stawarczyk, Grodzicki, Malinowski, Szyndrowski – Grzyb, Lisowski, Straka, Zieńczuk – Niedzielan, Jankowski