Tomasz Kuszczak: Keeping the Polish dream alive
Brighton's No 1 hopes England fixture can inspire Poland as much as hosting Euro 2012
England's last visit to Poland did not end well, even if the team's worst moments in the summer's European Championship all came on Ukrainian soil rather than at their base in Krakow, the Polish cultural capital.
Their return for Tuesday's World Cup qualifier, though, should have a better outcome. Although Poles hope that their co-hosting of Euro 2012 will lead to an improvement in their football at domestic and international level, it will be gradual, and the national team that will face England in Warsaw are even weaker than the one which underachieved at the Euros.
Jakub Blaszczykowski, Poland's captain and arguably their best player in the summer, suffered an ankle injury playing for Borussia Dortmund last weekend and will be out for up to six weeks, and some of the other Poles who impressed at Euro 2012 have also experienced a decline in fortunes.
Przemyslaw Tyton, the goalkeeper, has been benched for the past four matches by PSV Eindhoven, while the defender Damien Perquis has spent more time on the pine than on the pitch since his move to Real Betis. Ludovik Obraniak of Bordeaux and Robert Lewandowski and Lukasz Piszczek, both of Dortmund, have been first-team regulars in competitive leagues, but few of the other members of the squad can claim to be playing at the top level every week.
Tomasz Kuszczak, the only British-based member of the squad, was forced to leave Manchester United for Brighton during the close season to get first-team football, and while his performances in the Championship's tightest defence have earned him a recall to the Poland squad, he admits that Polish players need more experience of top-level competition in order to improve.
"We need more big games like the Euros," he said. "Being in more tournaments like that helps you to grow as a player. We've got some players at good teams in Europe and this can only have a positive impact, and we've had good results against teams like Portugal, but we've never had a good result against England. It's going to be difficult."
The new manager, Waldemar Fornalik, has had mixed results since replacing Franciszek Smuda, drawing 2-2 away to Montenegro and beating Moldova only 2-0 at home.
He is regarded as the best of a new generation of home-produced coaches, having taken Ruch Chorzow to second place in the Polish League last season despite financial struggles, and he has been ready to blood new players. But a tactical switch to two forwards rather than one has proved difficult for a team that played 4-5-1 under Smuda.
Even though Poland's prospects of beating England are poor, Kuszczak is looking forward to Tuesday's sold-out match at Warsaw's National Stadium, which was newly built for the Euros. "I hope this kind of game, this kind of occasion will have an impact on our league football, which is the problem, a league without money – not many sponsors. You need a lot of money or it's difficult to build something.
"Football was always our number one sport, but we didn't have the thousands and thousands of fans going to games every week that you do in the Premier League and the Championship," he added. "But the basics are there and we hope new sponsors will come and put some money into the teams and make it more attractive for the fans."
The government had already invested millions of euros in grassroots training facilities before a new constituency of fans suddenly took notice of Polish football during the European Championship. The task for the Polish FA (PZPN), who will elect a new president later this month, with the former international Zbigniew Boniek among the candidates, will be to retain and build on that interest.
For a month, a feeling similar to that in Britain during the Olympic Games prevailed, with the national colours of white and red, previously hijacked by political parties and nationalist groups, being worn in a spontaneous spirit of patriotism. Whether that can continue is uncertain: some supporters have voiced concern that the PZPN have restricted ticket sales for the England game to their own official groups, thus excluding the new fans they should be targeting.
At least the Euros were not blighted, as had been feared, by hooliganism or racism, with dismissals of the BBC's Panorama warnings before the tournament as scaremongering mercifully proving correct. "People kept asking me, 'Oh my God, are people going to die there because the hooligans are so bad?' " Kuszczak said. "But the police had most things under control and everyone tried to make Poland look good.
"Racism happens everywhere, but there was none at the Euros. Polish people are learning quickly, we're trying to be part of Europe after so many years of being isolated. It was the first time Poland had been able to invite the whole of Europe, and we've opened the gates, if you like. Not everything is perfect now, but a lot of good things have stayed alive since the tournament – beautiful stadiums and better infrastructure.
"We're not filling the stadiums yet, but they are attracting more fans, and although it will take time, the base that we needed is there now."
Previous six meetings
12 October 2005, World Cup qualifier, Old Trafford: England 2 (Owen 44, Lampard 80) Poland 1 (Frankowski 45).
8 September 2004, WC qualifier, Chorzow: Poland 1 (Zurawski 48) England 2 (Defoe 37, Glowacki 58 og).
8 September 1999, Euro qualifier, Warsaw: Poland 0 England 0.
27 March 1999, Euro qualifier, Wembley: England 3 (Scholes 11, 21, 70) Poland 1 (Brzechek 29).
31 May 1997, World Cup qualifier, Chorzow: Poland 0 England 2 (Shearer 6, Sheringham 90)
9 October 1996, WC Qualifier, Wembley: England 2 (Shearer 24, 37) Poland 1 (Citko 7).
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