It was a very subdued Poland squad that trained at Wembley on Monday night as they prepared to face England with their own chances of qualification for next summer’s World Cup finals having already disappeared.
“We’re very aware of the huge numbers of Poles living in England, and so we’re going to try our utmost to make their lives here that little bit more pleasant by performing well, being competitive and getting a positive result,” said the Poland captain Jakub Blaszczykowski.
“We’re full of respect for the English players, but we genuinely feel that the players in our squad are capable of getting a good result at Wembley. We have to try not to let down the big support that we will have in the ground. We’ve been reminded of our recent game in Ireland, where most of the crowd were Poles.
“Here it is looking like it won’t be dissimilar. I’m sure it will lift us in the difficult periods during the match that will undoubtedly come. It gives you added self-belief to hear such backing. We’ll do everything that we can to ensure that they can go home from the ground in a happy mood.”
The atmosphere among the players as they tested the Wembley pitch was not helped by delays in reaching the stadium through the traffic, after arriving earlier in the day at their London base of the Hilton hotel in Syon Park. There are already recriminations at choosing accommodation that is more convenient for Heathrow than Wembley. The Polish media have joked that at least it will be good for making a quick getaway after a match of which expectations back home are not high.
The Poland coach, Waldemar Fornalik, insisted that “there are no matches with nothing at stake, in every game you have to give everything you’ve got”. But sources close to the Polish FA president, Zbigniew Boniek, suggest that the Wembley contest will be Fornalik’s last match in charge, with potential replacements already being considered.
The fear in Poland is that there are no suitable coaching candidates there to match the calibre of players like Blaszczykowski and his Borussia team-mate Robert Lewandowski, along with the Premier League goalkeepers Artur Boruc and Wojciech Szczesny. Meanwhile insufficient funds are available to attract the best foreign coaches.
The much-coveted Jupp Heynckes, Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat are likely to fall into the latter category, but Sven Goran Eriksson is being mentioned as a possible alternative, along with Marco Tardelli.
Tonight, Poland will have to rejig the defence due to Lukasz Szukala’s ban following a yellow card in the Ukraine last week. Their fear is that at left-back Grzegorz Wojtkowiak may be vulnerable against Andros Townsend after his schoolboy mistake led to the Ukrainians’ winner.
But Poland will always have 1973 to fall back on. “We’re constantly talking about the 1973 match” said Blaszczykowski. “We realise it was a big moment in Polish football and we are following something very historic. But maybe after this week everyone will recall another great occasion for Poland. That’s our hope.”