With neighbours Ukraine visiting Warsaw this evening, Poland National Team coach Waldemar Fornalik is ready to make changes to the side which lost friendly games against both Uruguay and the Republic of Ireland, as the Białe-Orły aim to make up some of the ground on both England and Montenegro in the World Cup Qualifying Group H.
Sitting on five points after a win and two draws from three matches (behind England on 8, and Montenegro on 10 – both after 4 games), tonight’s fixture against Ukraine is a must-win for Fornalik’s squad if they harbour any hopes of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil next summer. With three points almost guaranteed against San Marino on Tuesday, and Montenegro hosting England on the same night, a win tonight would put Poland in a good spot before June’s potential banana-skin trip to Chisnau to face Moldova.
The Goalkeeping Conundrum
Fornalik has a number of key decisions to make regarding his team selection for Ukraine, starting right from the very back. PSV Eindhoven stopper Przemysław Tytoń has been an ever present for the former Ruch Chorzów boss in competitive games, but with appearances at club level limited, he only made the plane to the Polish capital by virtue of an injury to Brighton’s Tomasz Kuszczak. Fornalik had originally opted to pick three goalkeepers plying their trade in England, with Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczęsny, Southampton’s Artur Boruc, as well as Kuszczak competing for the number one jersey, but whilst Kuszczak’s withdrawal left space for Tytoń, he is likely to be the third choice.
22 year-old Szczęsny was the first choice under former boss Franciszek Smuda, before his sending-off against Greece, and his subsequent injury, allowed Tytoń to take advantage. With Boruc and Kuszczak both gaining rave reviews on the English south coast, it seems as though Wojtek could have lost his spot more permanently, with “The Holy Goalie” Boruc first in line to take the gloves.
The Back Line
Whilst the stock of Dortmund full-back Łukasz Piszczek will guarantee him a place against Ukraine, and Kamil Glik’s performances in Serie A are garnering constant praise, the other two spots in the back-four are still up for grabs.
Centre-back, and stand-in captain for the England game, Marcin Wasilewski has been an important part of the Poland back-line since his return from a broken leg; but another one with game time at club level limited, his spot in the starting eleven could be in danger. However the only other real centre-back in the squad in young Bartosz Salamon, who has just switched from Brescia to Italian giants AC Milan. With Salamon’s international experience limited, Wasyl may have earned a little more time to prove his importance to Fornalik.
The left-back spot however, isn’t as clear-cut. Having played second fiddle to Sebastian Boenisch during Euro 2012, Legia’s Jakub Wawrzyniak earned a starting berth in the group opener against Montenegro thanks to impressive performances at club level, and his rival’s lack of club having left Werder Bremen in the summer.
But after a few high-profile mistakes in the recent friendly games, and Boenisch’s return to Bundesliga action with Bayer Leverkusen, there is still a big question mark over who Fornalik will decide to go with on the left side of defence.
The Middle of the Park
Possibly the most competitive area of the squad, and also the biggest point of contention between Polish fans, it is a complete mystery who will find their way into Fornalik’s five-man (two defensive and three attacking) midfield. The only two players who look to have stamped their names onto the teamsheet are Reims’ defensive youngster Grzegorz Krychowiak, and their right-sided captain Jakub “Kuba” Błaszczykowski.
Legia Warszawa’s 21 year-old midfielder Daniel Łukasik is touted by many as one of the future stars of Polish football, and his recent displays at Łazienkowska have rightly earned him call-ups to the international arena. However finding his way into the full team for competitive games will be a little more difficult than the Ekstraklasa-only squad where he performed so well earlier in the year. His main competition comes in the form of his former Legia team-mate Ariel Borysiuk, now at Kaiserslautern, and Hoffenheim’s Eugen Polański.
Whilst Kamil Grosicki, Adrian Mierzejewski, Maciej Rybus and Jakub Kosecki will all be fighting for the left-sided attacking spot, it is the central position which is causing the most debate in Poland; most notably about the suitability of Bordeaux’s French-born attacker Ludovic Obraniak. With some less-than-average performances in the white-and-red recently, many fans hope to see the back of Ludo, citing his bad attitude and his inability to speak fluent Polish as his reasons for underperforming. Obraniak’s performances at club level have been very impressive of late, but he has struggled to click with team-mates, most notably Robert Lewandowski, on the international stage. Whilst captain Błaszczykowski has stated in the media recently that the whole squad is behind Obraniak, his complete lack of link-up with Lewy has been clear to see – something which the Dortmund striker must also take some of the blame for.
With Obraniak no longer holding the same importance in the team as he had before Euro 2012, Fornalik has began to look at another player performing well at club level – Nottingham Forest’s Radosław Majewski. Since Billy Davies’ return to the East Midlands club, the former Dyskobolia Grodzisk and Polonia Warszawa midfielder has netted five times, including a hat-trick against Huddersfield Town. Another player to be cast aside under Franciszek Smuda, Majewski’s return to form has been much talked about by Polish fans, and he will be looking to add to his eight caps.
The Barren Spell Up-Front
Robert Lewandowski. Nineteen goals in just 23 appearances for Dortmund this term leaves his just four shy of his total for the whole of last season. Attracting the attention of top European clubs such as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich. But with the White Eagle on his chest, almost 800 (eight hundred) minutes without a goal; and with the hopes of a nation resting on their prodigal son, in desperate need to hit the back of the net. Sooner rather than later.
Whether it be a lack of service, or whether it be wasting numerous chances where he has tried to take on too much, Lewy’s dry spell has the potential to cost Poland. With the back-up strikers’ inexperience at international level, and Fornalik no doubt under pressure to play the country’s top striker, a goal against Ukraine will be a massive boost to the Polish National Team in terms of improving Lewy’s confidence.
Should Lewandowski go a further 90 minutes without hitting the back of the net, Tuesday’s clash with San Marino should give Fornalik a little help – either by giving the opportunity for Lewy to smash home a couple of goals, or by giving the back-up strikers Łukasz Teodorczyk and Arkadiusz Milik a chance to prove that there is an alternative.
Last Five Meetings
04/09/2010 – Poland 1-1 Ukraine (Friendly)
20/08/2008 – Ukraine 1-0 Poland (Friendly)
06/10/2001 – Poland 1-1 Ukraine (WC Qualifying)
02/09/2000 – Ukraine 1-3 Poland (WC Qualifying)
14/07/1998 – Ukraine 1-2 Poland (Friendly)
Possible Starting XI:
Artur Boruc (Southampton) – Łukasz Piszczek (Dortmund), Kamil Glik (Torino), Marcin Wasilewski (Anderlecht), Sebastian Boenisch (Leverkusen) – Daniel Łukasik (Legia Warszawa), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Stade de Reims) – Jakub Błaszczykowski© (Dortmund), Radosław Majewski (Nottingham Forest), Adrian Mierzejewski (Trabzonspor) – Robert Lewandowski (Dortmund).
Our report on the Ukraine National team with Peter Chymera of “The Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame” can be found HERE.
Poland take on Ukraine at Warsaw’s Stadion Narodowy, with kick-off at 19:45 UK (20:45 Local), on Friday 22nd March 2012. Follow both @Ryan_Hubbard and @polishscout on Twitter for more updates.