Polish football has always had a tendency to shoot itself in the foot.
Back in 2002, the national side qualified for the World Cup in style but lost its first two games, including a 4-0 mauling at the hands of Portugal.
Despite an impressive performance against the USA in its last game, Poland’s win was rather saddening, as many fans rightly felt that the World Cup was being robbed of an interesting competitor.
In 2008 history repeated itself: a surprising first place in Group A of qualifying for the European Championships offered the Poles a chance at redemption, only for Leo Beenhakker’s men to squander it with some poor football and a lot more moaning after Howard Webb gave Austria a controversial late penalty which ultimately knocked them out.
The last few years seemed to have brought a smile back to faces of the Polish public. While some fans are rightly unimpressed by the current batch’s potential, there is no denying that the White Eagles have got their preparations for Euro 2012 – which they will co-host with Ukraine – on track with draws against Germany and South Korea and convincing wins against Argentina and Belarus.
These results were accompanied by the completion of a number of modern, attractive stadiums (including tonight’s Miejski), which were touted as an excellent platform on which to plan the Ekstraklasa’s future growth.
Then the axe fell again, neatly chopping the Eagle off the national shirt and replacing it with the national federation’s logo. Cue the Polish public’s furious reaction, best gauged by comparing its intensity to how angry our tabloids would be if we replaced the Three Lions with a European flag.
This tension will spill over into a game the Poles aren’t exactly favourites to win, at 11/5, an eventuality slightly less likely than a draw (23/10).
Though Poland have played well against some big names recently, Cesare Prandelli’s Italy side are too big to topple (any reference to the eurozone crisis is purely coincidental). For a start, Poland’s results against big sides might be a little flattering: Argentina and Germany fielded reserve sides, while France are still going through a transitional period.
Italy, on the other hand, are technically gifted, well-drilled and will probably put Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli in charge of the creative department. Antonio Cassano, Giuseppe Rossi and Sebastian Giovinco might be out, but Balotelli’s passing will instead find the likes of Giampaolo Pazzini (11/2 to score first, as he is starting) and Alessandro Matri, (13/2 to score last), the latter having impressed with a hat-trick during a warm-up game.
Prandelli’s midfield diamond has also produced quite a few goals recently, so keep an eye out for Alberto Aquilani and Claudio Marchisio (13/4 to net at any time), two players who have improved their offensive play over the last few months, with the Juventus youngster recently netting a decisive brace against AC Milan.
These factors all point to an Italian win, with the away side likely to net twice (at 14/5). Yet, despite its problems, the Polish team has shown that it can maintain a high tempo for 70-80 minutes and there is no denying that its physical presence caused France quite a few problems.
Would it be too bold to go for Poland opening the scoring? After all, boss Franciszek Smuda has two aces up his sleeve in Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who have scored Poland’s last six goals between them, and more importantly have each managed to open the scoring on two occasions over the last few months.
Are they such a bad bet (at odds of 11/2 and 16/1 respectively) to net first? Lewandowski seems like a safe way of investing the free £25 bet bwin is offering to any new subscribers. Were he to come through with the goods, that punt would see a return of £162.50.
Poland are 29/20 to score once (they got two against Germany, remember, whose reserves are nothing to be sniffed at), but those looking for a more ambitious punt might want to invest on Poland leading at half-time and Italy triumphing over 90 minutes, quoted at 30/1.
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