With the EURO 2016 qualifying campaign draw seeing Scotland in the same group as Poland, next month’s international friendly against the Poles will provide some insight into one of our main competitors in the group and will be valuable experience for the Scots.
Scotzine editor Andy Muirhead talks to Polish football writer and pundit Ryan Hubbard about the upcoming game between the two sides.
AM: What is your take on the Polish national side currently? What have you learned from past games under head coach Adam Nawałka?
RH: With Nawałka just a handful of games into his tenure, we are still a little in-the-dark as to what his plans are for the Polish national team. Prior to January’s Ekstraklasa-only squad games against Moldova and Norway, meetings with Ireland and Slovakia were largely experimental with the 56 year-old opting to give run-outs to a number of players who hadn’t received a look-in previously.
The former Górnik Zabrze boss inherited a morale-depleted side from his predecessor Waldemar Fornalik, and has attempted to put his own mark on the squad. By giving chances to players such as Paweł Olkowski, Tomasz Brzyski and Krzysztof Mączyński; Nawałka has shown he won’t be afraid to take chances. With six months until their next competitive game, this could be a shot in the arm for the national team; however Poland’s current strongest team on paper isn’t too far from the one which took to the field under Fornalik – they perhaps just need someone who can motivate them.
AM: What do Polish football fans and the media think of the Scottish game and particularly the Scotland national side?
RH: In previous years, the transfers of players such as Paweł Brożek, Artur Boruc, and Maciej Żurawski have indicated that the SPL is a step up from the Ekstraklasa. However over the last twelve months, the transfers of Barry Douglas to Lech Poznań and Henrik Ojamaa to Legia Warszawa have been seen as a slight shift.
Having only met on a handful of occasions, and not since 2001, this friendly will give Adam Nawałka an important insight into Strachan’s side ahead of their qualifying campaign. The English Premier League is extremely popular in Poland, and because of that there is a familiarity with some of the squad; however with a number of the team playing in either the SPL or the Championship, there is still a hint of the unknown about the Scottish side.
Scotland’s recent qualifying campaigns will undoubtedly leave Poland as favourites for the game; however some of the Białe-Orły’s recent showings, coupled with Scotland’s finish to 2013, will not necessarily fill them with confidence. Still, the Polish media will be expecting nothing less than a victory. Win this game, and the nation will believe in qualification for Euro 2016. Lose it, and pessimism will fill the forthcoming qualifying campaign.
AM: Who are the key players for Poland and what do they bring to the team that can cause Scotland concern?
RH: Of course Robert Lewandowski is the biggest name in the Poland squad, and the one which Scotland will be keeping tabs on the most. However his international form doesn’t quite mirror that in the Bundesliga. Just three goals since their Euro 2012 opener – two of them from the spot against San Marino – have been a disappointment for a striker touted as one of the world’s best. Although to be fair to the Dortmund hitman, the service provided to him from his international teammates isn’t always to the same standard as that at club level.
With Jakub Błaszczykowski ruled out through injury, Poland’s other main threats will come from players not as-well-known on these shores. Back in the national team following a fall-out with former boss Fornalik (and some of his international colleagues), French-born midfielder Ludovic Obraniak could cause Scotland a few problems. Fresh from a move away from his homeland to German side Werder Bremen, Ludo has a lot to prove to Polish fans – some of whom are still unhappy with his attitude during previous call-ups.
Elsewhere, Waldemar Sobota (Club Brugge), Łukasz Piszczek (Dortmund), Arkadiusz Milik (Augsburg), and whoever starts between the sticks out of Artur Boruc (Southampton) or Wojciech Szczęsny (Arsenal), all have the ability to make it a difficult night for the visitors.
AM: What style of play do Poland play, their tactics and formation?
RH: Although Nawałka, and Fornalik before, have made attempts to try out a 4-4-2, it’s likely that Poland will begin with the 4-2-3-1 which is more familiar to them.
With the two defensive midfielders, Poland’s full-backs are required to be as equally adept at attacking as defending; and this is usually most evident down the right-hand side, where the Dortmund trio usually operate. Piszczek is renowned for his ability to join in his side’s attacking play, whilst likely left-back Tomasz Brzyski is currently top of the Ekstraklasa’s assists table, with eight for league leaders Legia.
Poland are at their most effective when playing on the counter attack, starting with the likes of Krychowiak, through their strong midfield, and onto Lewandowski. If the Polish defence can hold firm, Scotland will need to watch out for the quick breaks.
AM: After the failure to qualify for the World Cup, are the fans disappointed or was it expected? What are the thoughts and chances of Poland qualifying for the Euros?
RH: There was a real belief that, despite their poor showing at Euro 2012, Poland had a chance to make it to Brazil this summer. But drawn against the likes of England, Ukraine and Montenegro, it was never going to be an easy task. Eventually, it was points lost against Ukraine and Moldova which cost the Poles – with the manner of defeat against the former in Warsaw a resounding disappointment.
With the draw for Euro 2016 now made, Poland will feel that they are capable of reaching the competition – especially with the tournament’s expansion to 24 teams. Avoiding the deceptively low ranked teams such as Montenegro and Iceland will be seen as a positive, but there will be no underestimating Scotland, Ireland, Georgia or Gibraltar.
The tie against Germany will undoubtedly be the centrepiece due to the history between the two countries both on and off the field. However the majority of Polish fans will know that competing with their rivals isn’t likely. Pipping Scotland and Ireland to the second automatic qualifying spot will be the target.
AM: What Scotland players are a cause for concern for Poland?
RH: Understandably, it is the more well-known players which will cause the most worry for Poland. Darren Fletcher, James Morrison and Robert Snodgrass will be the names which attract the most attention; and all have the ability to stifle their midfield. Nawałka will also be keen to keep tabs on the likes of Charlie Adam, Steven Naismith and Scott Brown.
AM: What is the likely line-up for Poland?
RH: It depends on how much experimenting Nawałka is planning to do with his squad. If he plans to play his strongest side, it could look similar to the following:
Artur Boruc (Southampton) – Łukasz Piszczek (Dortmund), Kamil Glik (Torino), Łukasz Szukała (Steaua Bucuresti), Tomasz Brzyski (Legia Warszawa) – Grzegorz Krychowiak (Stade de Reims), Eugen Polański (Hoffenheim) – Mateusz Klich (PEC Zwolle), Ludovic Obraniak (Werder Bremen), Waldemar Sobota (Club Brugge) – Robert Lewandowski (Dortmund).
AM: Your prediction for the game?
RH: Poland 2-0 Scotland
With the two sides scheduled to meet twice more over the next nineteen months, the whole dynamic of this friendly will have changed. Coach Nawałka will have had this lined up as the first opportunity to try out his strongest side, but now he may feel as though he will be able to experiment a little more. Either way, he should have enough strength at his disposal to get a result.
There are a number of factors in the Poland squad which could contribute to the result; the most important two being ending Lewandowski’s barren spell in the white shirt, and reintegrating Obraniak back into the side. If Nawałka can create a good atmosphere amongst his squad, the White Eagles could win by a goal-or-two.
Ryan Hubbard is a Polish football writer and pundit; who has written and commented on the game in Poland for the likes of MirrorFootball.co.uk, FourFourTwo.com, BBC Radio and TalkSport, amongst many others. He is editor of the English-language Polish football website EKSTRAKLASAreview.co.uk, and can be found on Twitter as @Ryan_Hubbard.