Poland welcome Portugal at the Warsaw National Stadium on Wednesday looking to prepare for the upcoming Euro 2012 tournament, which they will co-host with Ukraine.
Boss Franciszek Smuda will be aiming to repeat Poland’s heroics back in 2006, when Ebi Smolarek’s brace shocked Cristiano Ronaldo and company in a Euro 2008 qualifier.
The Red and Whites went on to take both the game (2-1) and top spot in Group A on that occasion, but Smuda is now in dire need of a good result, or to put it bluntly, to get his team playing a brand of football which will satisfy his demanding fans.
The local press have been pretty negative about Poland’s playing style and understandably fear the worst, especially now that key striker Robert Lewandowski’s injury has ruled him out of the tie.
That said, though Poland’s football might not quite be what Brazilians refer to as Joga Bonito, the White Eagles have visibly improved since the new manager took the job.
Beforehand, Poland possessed a quick yet blunt squad, incapable of playing in a cohesive manner on the big stage, their disjointed performances back in Austria and Switzerland only overshadowed by the infamous Graham Poll incident, when the English referee’s courageous (and correct) decision to give a penalty against Leo Beenhakker’s side provoked a series of death threats (one Polish fan even jokingly told me that he “knew where Poll lived”).
Portugal are handicapped by their star players’ commitments: while Ronaldo is an obvious enough example, the upcoming Benfica-Porto grudge match is likely to deflect attention from this friendly and force Bento to opt for a number of substitutions in the second half.
Nowadays, Poland have a few good results under their belts, not least the narrow 1-0 defeat they suffered at the hands of France, where Smuda’s men were so consistent in their pressing that one French colleague sarcastically named striker Guillaume Hoarau as Les Bleus’ best defender for his clearances in front of Hugo Lloris’ goal.
For the first time since the Boniek/Lato generation, the White Eagles can point to a squad that isn’t simply chock-full of tall, physical players with questionable technique.
Smuda’s starting line-up boasts the likes of Ludo Obraniak, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Lukas Pieszek, players used to performing day in, day out for Bordeaux and Borussia Dortmund.
They can be counted on to make up for Lewandowski’s absence and hold Portugal to a draw, an eventuality priced at an inviting 11/5.
Elsewhere in bwin’s 3Way football betting market for the match, Portugal are made strong favourites at evens, while the Poles are available at 11/4.
Poland’s odds of scoring are priced at an interesting 57/100, a stat reinforced by Paulo Bento’s decision to field a number of second-string players whose inclusion in the final squad is still in doubt.
If the White Eagles’ attack has doubtless worked wonders over the past few months – netting twice against South Korea and an impressive ‘reserve’ German side – the defence has won further praise, especially since Smuda recruited Damian Perquis, another Frenchman with no Les Bleus ambitions who just so happens to have a Polish grandmother.
Along with Marcin Wasilewski and Arkadiusz Glowacki, Poland have strength in depth when it comes to filling the two central berths in defence and could stifle Portugal if Bento chooses a 4-3-3 formation, a system known for often isolating the lone centre forward.
With Bento chancing his hand at a few experiments, expect this game to contain a very small number of goals, with punters no doubt tempted by the 3/5 odds on the encounter containing less than three.
The ex-Sporting manager is likely to field Manuel Fernandes alongside Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho, a tactic which could backfire if the Besiktas midfielder does not fully recover from his latest knock.
Portugal are also, if truth be told, handicapped by their star players’ commitments: while Ronaldo is an obvious enough example, the upcoming Benfica-Porto grudge match is likely to deflect attention from this friendly and force Bento to opt for a number of substitutions in the second half.
If Portugal cannot take the lead within the hour, their chances of winning are likely to decrease exponentially as the game wears on.