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World Cup preview: Poland

Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia, Sports Mole previews Poland's chances as they make their first appearance at the tournament since 2006.

Not since 2006 have Poland graced the World Cup with their presence, but they will arrive at Russia 2018 with many tipping them as dark horses to go far in the tournament.

With Robert Lewandowski leading the line, Poland have the tools to upset some of the more established World Cup powers and know that this may be their last chance to showcase arguably their greatest ever player on the biggest stage.

The Poland team line up before their friendly game with Chile on June 8, 2018© Reuters

It is 32 years since Poland managed to progress past the group stages of this competition, though, so they will need to defy recent history if the current crop are to emulate the likes of Zbigniew Boniek, Grzegorz Lato and Wladyslaw Zmuda.

Here, Sports Mole assesses Poland's chances of success at Russia 2018.


Poland will have been one of the happier nations with the World Cup draw, which placed them alongside Colombia, Japan and Senegal in Group H.

World Cup Group H

All four teams will have genuine hopes of reaching the knockout rounds, but Poland will go in as favourites to finish top of the pile - which could mean avoiding Belgium in the last 16.

If all goes as expected then Poland's showdown with Colombia could be the key encounter to decide top spot, although Senegal and Japan may have something to say about that either side of that game.


June 19: Poland vs. Senegal (4pm, Otkritie Arena, Moscow)
June 24: Poland vs. Colombia (7pm, Kazan Arena, Kazan)
June 28: Japan vs. Poland (3pm, Volgograd Arena, Volgograd)


Lewandowski was unsurprisingly the star of the show throughout qualifying, netting 16 of his side's 28 goals to top the scoring charts above even Cristiano Ronaldo.

The first of those came from the penalty spot to give Poland a 2-0 lead in their opening game in Kazakhstan, although they went on to squander that lead and were held to a point by the team which eventually finished bottom of Group E.

Poland's players celebrate their qualification for the 2018 World Cup© Reuters

Five successive wins followed to put Poland in the driving seat, though, and they looked to be cruising to their place at Russia 2018 until their winning run came to an emphatic end when Denmark beat them 4-0 in Copenhagen.

Adam Nawalka's side were quick to respond again, though, with comfortable wins over Kazakhstan and Armenia leaving them three points clear of the Danes heading into the final round of fixtures.

Only a draw was needed against Montenegro in Warsaw, and it looked as though the match might be heading that way when the visitors came from two goals down in the final 15 minutes, only for Poland to score twice themselves even later and seal a 4-2 win.


In a side that is pretty reliant on its star man, Nawalka would have been happy to see Lewandowski maintain his stellar form in his side's final pre-World Cup friendly against Lithuania on Tuesday, as the Bayern Munich hitman netted twice in his 45 minutes on the field.

The world's 126th-ranked side offered little threat in the Warsaw friendly, with Poland running out comfortable 4-0 winners to make it two wins and a draw in their last three matches.

Robert Lewandowski celebrates scoring during Poland's international friendly with Lithuania on June 12, 2018© Reuters

Having previously lost 1-0 to Mexico and Nigeria, the White and Reds appear to be back on track and will fancy their hopes of progressing thanks to the form of Lewandowski.

A combined nine goals for the side in their last three outings also suggests that they will take their form from qualifying - 28 strikes in 10 matches - into the finals; their counter-attacking threat likely to prove key in tight matches.


Goalkeepers: Bartosz Bialkowski (Ipswich), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus).

Defenders: Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Thiago Cionek (SPAL), Kamil Glik (Monaco), Artur Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warsaw), Michal Pazdan (Legia Warsaw), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund).

Midfielders: Jakub Blaszczykowski (Wolfsburg), Jacek Goralski (Ludogorets Razgrad), Kamil Grosicki (Hull City), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Paris St-Germain), Rafal Kurzawa (Gornik Zabrze), Karol Linetty (Sampdoria), Slawomir Peszko (Lechnia Gdansk), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli).

Forwards: Dawid Kownacki (Sampdoria), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli), Lukasz Teodorczyk (Anderlecht).

STAR PLAYER - Robert Lewandowski

Robert Lewandowski in action for Poland on October 8, 2017© Reuters

Poland were always likely to need their most recognisable player to perform if they were to reach Russia, and 15-goal Robert Lewandowski did exactly that by topping the UEFA scoring charts in qualifying.

Having the Bayern Munich striker in their ranks transforms the White and Reds from tournament also-rans into a team with serious ambitions of making it beyond the last-16 stage.

Lewandowski's incredible scoring rate in qualifying saw him officially become his nation's leading all-time scorer, but he has not finished there.

With his agent suggesting that a move away from Bavaria this summer is looking more likely than ever, the 29-year-old now finds himself as one of the most coveted players anywhere in the world.

Score the goals that keep Poland in the World Cup until the latter stages, and an extra £10-20m can surely be added to that already high price tag.

MANAGER - Adam Nawalka

Poland manager Adam Nawalka on November 13, 2017© Reuters

Nawalka was a member of Poland's previous golden generation, even being named in the 1978 World Cup team of the tournament at the age of just 19, so it is fitting that he is leading the next group into their first World Cup in 12 years.

In charge since October 2013, the former midfielder already has experience of a major tournament as an international manager from Euro 2016, where Poland reached the quarter-finals for the very first time.

Nawalka had previously served as assistant to Leo Beenhakker for the national team from 2007 to 2008, while he has also enjoyed numerous roles at his home club of Wisla Krakow.

The 60-year-old also spent the majority of his playing career with Wisla, in addition to winning 34 caps for Poland, but his time with the national team was curtailed by recurring injuries which ultimately prevented him from achieving his full potential.


Best finish: Third place (1974, 1982)

Poland in action at the 2006 World Cup© Reuters

Poland's golden era of World Cup participation came between 1974 and 1986, when they not only reached four tournaments in a row, but also made it past the first round on each occasion - something they have not managed before or since.

The most memorable run came in 1974 when Poland thrashed Haiti 7-0 as well as beating Argentina and Italy in the group stages, before going on to finish second behind eventual champions West Germany in the second group phase. That took them into the third-place playoff, where they beat holders Brazil.

The Poles were once again ousted by the eventual champions eight years later when Italy won their semi-final, but they secured a third-place finish once more by beating a French team that would go on to win the European Championship two years later.

A barren 18-year spell followed after 1986, but they qualified for successive tournaments in 2002 and 2006, only to fall at the first hurdle on both occasions, the latter of which was their most recent World Cup campaign.

Overall Poland have played 31 World Cup matches, winning 15 of those with five draws and 11 defeats while scoring 44 goals and conceding 40.


It looks like being between Poland and Colombia for top spot in Group H, and we expect the South American outfit to come out on top in that battle, condemning Poland to second place.

A last-16 showdown with either Belgium or England would most likely await after that, and Poland would go into either match as underdogs.

VERDICT: Last 16

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The Denmark squad line up before their friendly with Sweden on June 2, 2018
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