Poland rely on spirit to make up for the spats

England's World Cup opponents have problems uniting for a common cause. Mike Rowbottom reports
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The Independent Online
The Poland supporter, clad in statutory red and white, responded gamely to the television people's request for a song. Standing outside the entrance to his team's hotel, he produced his scarf for the camera's inspection and bellowed something which relied heavily on a central refrain of "Polski gola."

This terrace ditty - according to the interpreter - went on to explain that "Polish goals are the will of the supporters, they are what we want."

But as the Poles prepare for tonight's World Cup qualifier at Wembley, the question of what they want appears far from clear. Are they, one wonders, singing from the same song sheet?

Poland's veteran coach, Antoni Piechniczek, back in charge after a 10-year absence, spoke cautiously yesterday as he appraised the prospects of his young and currently unsuccessful side.

Piechniczek, who steered the Poles to third place in the 1982 World Cup and took them to Mexico four years later, has presided over defeats by Russia and Germany and a draw with Cyprus since returning in June, results which leave the team without a win in 12 matches.

"England are one of the best teams in Europe," he said. "We are like a boxer who defends himself with two hands and then tries to give a counter."

The vision arose of his side camping cautiously in front of their own goal at Wembley and sending out the odd expeditionary force.

Poland's midfield playmaker Piotr Nowak spoke about the job ahead far more blithely. "We must play our football, not just try to stop England," said the 32-year-old, who only joined up with the squad on Sunday after playing for his club, 1860 Munich.

"If we just try to defend our 18-yard box we cannot win. We must also get forward. If we do that, we have as chance."

Where that leaves Polish tactics is a matter of conjecture. What is not in doubt is the difficulty they have had in assembling their squad given that so many of their players are now based abroad. Whatever the weaknesses of the regime Poland overthrew at the end of the Eighties, you have to grant that at least the Communists could make the training run on time.

Andrezej Juskowiak, the recent scorer of three goals for Borussia Monchengladbach against Arsenal in the Uefa Cup, his fellow forward Wojchiech Kowalczyk of the Spanish side Real Betis, and the Feyenoord midfielder Tomasz Ivan, have all refused to play again for the coach after rows.

"I couldn't tolerate Juskowiak's moods," Piechniczek said. A further problem appears to be looming for him after reports that whichever of his two goalkeepers, Maciej Szczesny and Andrzej Wozniak, is not picked tonight will refuse to play any further part in the World Cup campaign.

Much of Poland's hope rests on the shoulders of Krzysztof Warzycha, of Panathinaikos, who is likely to be Poland's lone forward. But the merits of another striker are weighing heavily on the visitors right now. Asked to name the main threat tonight, Nowak replied: "Shearer."

The 1860 Munich player emphasised, however, that the future looked good for the young Polish side. It was a message echoed by Zbigniew Boniek, star of the 1982 World Cup team who is currently advising the Polish FA. "We haven't had anything important to play for since we were knocked out of Euro 96," he said. "But the Polish spirit is still there, and you will soon see a different side."

He added, however, that having so many players abroad created a big problem. A bit rich that, given that he started it all by moving to Juventus after the 1982 World Cup.