by Ryan Hubbard
With all of the talk about both sets of fans boycotting this year’s Puchar Polski Final, you would be forgiven for forgetting that there is a game to be played. But on Friday evening at 18:30 CET (17:30 UK), Zagłębie Lubin and Zawisza Bydgoszcz will meet at Warsaw’s Stadion Narodowy; both attempting to become the first name engraved on the PZPN’s brand new trophy.
As well as becoming the first side to lift the new silverware, both Zagłębie and Zawisza will be competing for their first-ever Polish Cup success – Zagłębie having lost in back-to-back finals in 2005 and 2006, and a 1991 semi-final defeat to GKS Katowice the previous best that Zawisza have mustered. However that is where the similarities end, as this season both clubs have had very different campaigns.
For Zagłębie, it has been a season of disappointment so far. After the dismissal of Pavel Hapal before the end of July, and Adam Buczek’s short reign; Orest Lenczyk has had a tumultuous time at the helm in Lubin. Spells of inconsistency have been punctuated by short runs of being consistently poor – in their 31 league games the Miedziowi are yet to pick up back-to-back victories. Rumours have flown around that the club’s board have been looking to replace the 71 year-old Lenczyk. If it wasn’t for their cup run, he may have already been sent packing.
Despite glimmers of hope with victories against Wisła Kraków, Górnik Zabrze, and Friday’s opponents Zawisza; Zagłębie found themselves entering the league’s split languishing in the relegation zone. They currently sit three points ahead of bottom side Widzew; but trail Piast Gliwice by two, and Podbeskidzie by four. Friday’s final will provide a welcome distraction from their league struggles – and they will hope a big morale boost too, with just six league games remaining.
Zawisza meanwhile have gone from strength-to-strength since their promotion almost twelve months ago. Under the tutelage of Ryszard Tarasiewicz they have surprised many as they battled to a place in the Ekstraklasa’s Championship group at the end of the regular season. Victories over Legia Warszawa, Śląsk Wrocław and Wisła Kraków have proven they deserve their place amongst the country’s elite; however injuries over the last few weeks have stalled them. Puchar success will give them a shot at European competition – their best chance of doing so now, with a top-three league finish looking unlikely.
Strangely, since their respective quarter-finals, both sides have identical league and cup form heading into the final. Winning their following league games against Wisła and Śląsk respectively, both Zagłębie and Zawisza have only managed one win from their five games since – both of them their cup semi-final first leg victories.
Orest Lenczyk has a couple of selection headaches for the clash; with former Polonia Warszawa captain Łukasz Piątek missing out having picked up a suspension, and Adam Banaś struggling through injury. However with a fairly big squad, especially in the middle of the park, Lenczyk should have plenty of cover.
One man who will be assured of his spot in the team is goalkeeper Silvio Rodić, who has kept clean sheets in every single cup outing on the way to Warsaw. The attacking duo of Arkadiusz Piech and David Abwo will also surely be placed straight onto the team sheet, despite neither having scored in their last five league outings. The pair did however hit all three (Piech 2, Abwo 1) in Zagłębie’s semi-final first leg win over Arka Gdynia; and are the team’s top scorers this season with a combined 22 goals In all competitions.
While Zawisza’s league performances this term will make them slight favourites, Ryszard Tarasiewicz will have selection issues of his own. Leading scorer Michał Masłowski, influential French midfielder Hérold Goulon, and experienced striker Paweł Abbott all certain to miss out through injury. Journeyman midfielder Paweł Strąk – who was coached by Lenczyk at both Wisła Kraków and GKS Bełchatów – also is a doubt, having limped out in the quarter-final win against another of his former clubs, Górnik.
But with key players out, Tarasiewicz has looked to other players to fill the gap. And a number have done so well.
Signing permanently from Lech Poznań in the summer, Kamil Drygas has hit seven goals this campaign, and looks certain to grace the Warsaw turf on Friday. The likes of Bernard Vasconcelos, Luis Carlos and Vahan Gevorgyan have also chipped in with their fair share of goals, while the defensive performances of Igor Lewczuk have even earned him a call into Adam Nawałka’s Poland squad.
Though the PZPN’s efforts to create more of a spectacle for the cup final have been partly dashed by the supporters’ boycotts; the fact that two smaller, unfancied sides have reached the brink of glory only goes to show the romanticism of knock-out competitions. With the last three tournaments won by Legia, cup glory has seemed out of reach for many. But with either Zagłębie or Zawisza on the brink of their moment in the spotlight, maybe between them they have rekindled the idea that the cup should be taken seriously. It is called the ‘Cup of a thousand teams’ for a reason, after all.
ROAD TO THE FINAL
Round 2: Piast Gliwice 0-0 (5-4 on penalties)
Round 3: GKS Tychy 1-0
Quarter Final: Sandecja Nowy Sącz 2-0, 5-0 (7-0 on aggregate)
Semi Final: Arka Gdynia 3-0, 0-0 (3-0 on aggregate)
Round 1: Lech Rypin 2-0
Round 2: Pogoń Szczecin 3-1
Round 3: GKS Katowice 1-0
Quarter Final: Górnik Zabrze 2-1, 3-0 (5-1 on aggregate)
Semi Final: Jagiellonia Białystok 2-0, 1-1 (3-1 on aggregate)
02.03.2014: Zagłębie Lubin 3-1 Zawisza Bydgoszcz
24.09.2014: Zawisza Bydgoszcz 2-0 Zagłębie Lubin
(Prices from Unibet.com, and are correct as of 30/04 at 22:00)
Result – 90 mins:
Zagłębie Lubin: 2.75
Zawisza Bydgoszcz: 2.60
To win the trophy:
Zagłębie Lubin: 2.00
Zawisza Bydgoszcz: 1.75