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Poland look to prove their mettle at last

Poland look to prove their mettle at last

FOOTBALL: When they take to home turf in Euro 2012 next month, Poland will be hoping their campaign won't turn sour like previous tournaments which dashed fans' dreams of a revival of a golden age.

By Agence France-Presse

Thursday 10 May 2012, 06:08PM

The weight of history hangs heavy, as supporters pine for Polish football's come-from-nowhere glory days of Olympic gold in 1972, third place in the 1974 World Cup, Olympic silver in 1976 and a further World Cup third in 1982.

Poland manager Franciszek Smuda is keenly aware that the home crowd wants his generation of players to repeat the feats of forebears such as Zbigniew Boniek.

"Of course there's pressure. There has to be pressure. There'd be pressure whether the tournament was in our country or another country," he said.

"Every fan has demands on this team, just like I do. I'm sure we're going to deal with this," he added.

He has warned against betting on a new era, however, as Poland brace to kick off Euro 2012 against Group A rivals Greece on June 8, then face Russia and the Czech Republic.

"Our goal is to clear our group," said Smuda, acknowledging that Euro 2008 semi-finalists Russia look the favourites. "But we're playing at home, so we'll give our all."

Smuda, who took the helm in October 2009 after a flunked World Cup qualifying campaign, has pulled few surprises in naming his 26-man squad, due to be trimmed to the official 23 on May 27.

Nineteen play in foreign leagues.

Among his biggest names are Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, while the sharp end of his strike force is Borussia Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski, nicknamed "Lewangoalski", who is the Bundesliga's top scorer this season.

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Lewandowski forms part of a trio of high-profile Poles at Dortmund, with midfielder Kuba Blaszczykowski, who regularly sports the Poland captain's armband, and defender Lukasz Piszczek both on Smuda's list.

The squad's average age is 25, their relative youth symbolised by 19-year-old Legia Warsaw midfielder Rafal Wolski, set to earn his first-ever senior cap.

"Every tournament uncovers new stars. I think the upcoming edition will reveal two or three from our team. We have a young side, many of whom haven't played at an event of this level," Smuda said.

Over the past decade, Poland have repeatedly raised and then wrecked fans' hopes, with solid qualifying campaigns for the 2002 and 2006 World Cup turning into lacklustre finals performances.

Only 13 of the men on Smuda's list played under his predecessor, Dutchman Leo Beenhakker, Poland's first-ever foreign manager, who was appointed following the 2006 debacle.

"I've picked those players that I've watched and tested over the past two and half years," Smuda said.

Beenhakker became a hero after steering Poland to their first ever European championships in 2008 but saw his star fall when they exited in the group stage and was axed after failing to get them to the 2010 World Cup.

Not reaching South Africa compounded the fact that, like fellow hosts Ukraine, Poland have an automatic berth at Euro 2012.

They have had to rely on friendlies to hone their skills, with patchy results, and will have gone 968 days without a competitive match by the time Euro 2012 kicks off.

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