Waldemar Fornalik’s Poland side get their 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign underway tonight as they travel to Podgorica, to face a Montenegro side which narrowly missed out on qualification to the summer’s European Championships. With a number of unexpected call-ups to the squad, former Ruch Chorzów boss Fornalik will be desperate to start off the campaign with a victory against what can be considered as Group H’s dark horses.
Despite their relative inexperience, the home side will start out as favourites for the game. With a recent win at home to Latvia coming off of the back of May’s 2-2 draw with Belgium in Brussels, Branko Brnović’s side will be brimming with confidence heading into the group opener.
Białe-Orły trainer Fornalik has had a couple of injuries to deal with ahead of Friday’s encounter – most notably the loss of Arsenal stopper Wojciech Szczęsny and Terek Grozny midfielder Maciej Rybus. As replacements, Fornalik has turned to Brighton and Hove Albion keeper Tomasz Kuszczak – back after a 2-year international exile – and Polonia Warszawa’s possible debutant Paweł Wszołek. With Wszołek impressing in the Ekstraklasa for Polonia, the 20-year old could possibly find his way straight into the team; however Kuszczak will have to wait a little longer to make his 11th National Team appearance, with Euro 2012 penalty hero Przemysław Tytoń ready to take his place between the sticks.
Although there are no major injuries elsewhere, Fornalik will be looking to make his mark on the squad – and he has some big decisions to make. With Fornalik’s squad selection slightly less conservative than predicted, there has been a big debate amongst journalists on whether the coach will stick to the 4-2-3-1 formation favoured by former boss Franciszek Smuda or move to a 4-4-2 set-up – tried unsuccessfully last month against Estonia.
Whether the boss opts for the 4-2-3-1 or the 4-4-2, his back line is pretty much established. The centre-back pairing of Marcin Wasilewski (Anderlecht) and Damian Perquis (Real Betis) were widely considered as two of Poland’s key performers during the summer, and along with right-back Łukasz Piszczek (Dortmund), they should make up three of the back four. Despite some solid performances during the Euros, the left-sided Sebastian Boenisch found himself without a club during the summer, and his lack of fitness has made space for Legia’s experienced Jakub Wawrzyniak.
Fornalik’s eventual decision on the formation will however definitely impact who starts in the attacking end of the line-up. The 4-2-3-1 could see an attacking-midfield trio of Ludovic Obraniak, Kamil Grosicki and Jakub Błaszczykowski, whilst the latter would make room for the inclusion of Legia Warszawa’s 34-year old striker Marek Saganowski to partner Robert Lewandowski up front. The former Southampton striker has been on form since his return to the Ekstraklasa, and his call-up was met with wide approval amongst the Polish press.
Another tough decision that Fornalik and his staff will have to make is who will be to partner Eugen Polański in the centre of midfield. After his rather average performance in the last friendly against Estonia, Kaiserslautern’s young midfielder Ariel Borysiuk looks likely to miss out on the starting XI. The return of Lech Poznań’s Rafał Murawski could mean that Fornalik would prefer someone with more experience to slot in next to Polański; however the surprise inclusion of Stade de Reims’ Grzegorz Krychowiak – receiving good reviews in France – also offers the manager another option in the middle.
Despite the quality of the opponents, failure to come back from Podgorica with anything will be a massive disappointment for Fornalik’s men. Whilst an away draw will be bearable for the White Eagles, the presence of both England and Ukraine in Group H means that Poland will need to pick up as many points as they can in this opening round before Tuesday’s must-win – and “should-win” – game against Moldova in Wrocław.
Possible Starting Line-ups:
4-2-3-1: Tytoń – Piszczek, Wasilewski, Perquis, Wawrzyniak – Polański, Murawski – Błaszczykowski, Obraniak, Grosicki – Lewandowski.
4-4-2: Tytoń – Piszczek, Wasilewski, Perquis, Wawrzyniak – Błaszczykowski, Polański, Murawski, Obraniak – Saganowski, Lewandowski.