20 lis 2012

Legia frustrates Rumak's tactical sense

Bartosz Ślusarski was leaving the pitch as one of the last - beaten, unhappy and fuming at the result and chances that came his way but he missed them wastefully. The last thing he needed was a rather loud fan, who from his position in the stands just over the tunnel was loudly commenting on Ślusarski's performance - even advising him to give up playing. The response, however, came and misfiring forward offered supporter to come down and face him like a man.

This wasn't the most spectacular meltdown Polish football have seen in recent years - that happened more than an hour before, on the pitch, as Legia ripped Lech apart time by time with their precise, fast counters. Shocked by the horrible injury of their teammate and back four leader, Manuel Arboleda, they were in shock when Jakub Kosecki turned out to be onside while linking with Jakub Wawrzyniak's long pass. Then Rafał Murawski, Lech's captain and one of best earners, was unable to stop Legia's left-back run, despite Wawrzyniak's recent injury that allowed him to train only once before the prestigious encounter. Although it was visitors' third goal in thirty minutes that was a piece of almost unbelievably horrible defending from Lech - Radović exposed space behind Ceesay again, went on a run as opposing defenders simply allowed him to enter the box and finish his move.

"I'm not sad, I'm irritated" - claimed Mariusz Rumak afterwards. "We lacked what I am responsible - tactics" - explained his team's meltdown. That is insufficient to say, though, as Lech managed to win only two home games out of six  so far, while their widely discussed minimalistic approach maybe guaranteed them the place at the top, but wasn't enough to keep Legia out from scoring. Górnik Zabrze needed only organization to keep Lech far from their goal, Jagiellonia had two lucky breaks and hit them instantly to notch famous win. Legia was always the most dangerous of them all, especially with fast wingers and technical presence of Danijel Ljuboja, but Lech should be prepared.

They weren't and, for what is worse, they looked surprised at how Legia went through them, once and again. Pressure and emotions are one thing, but discipline quite the other and that was the least Rumak could expect. Marcin Kamiński should be used to festive atmosphere and important games through the experience gained in Poznan so far, and by enjoying the role of one of the leaders in Poland youth teams. But this wouldn't be right to put the blame all on young defender's shoulders - what should worry Mariusz Rumak the most is the way his senior players crumbled under Legia's presence. Murawski, Ślusarski, Ceesay and Trałka - they are were at fault for the result more than their younger teammates. For what is worth, it was young Karol Linetty who stood out and matched his opponents.

"I can't wait for the reverse fixture in Warsaw" - was the message through gritted teeth of Mariusz Rumak. He knows that it may be quite different story with incoming winter. Whereas he is looking at the position needing reinforcements - now add an experienced central defender to his list - Jan Urban openly admits that the state of Legia's finances will demand selling some parts of his best assets.

Scale of work ahead of Lech, and the differences in class proved by Legia, were exposed with unexpected ease - Edgar Cani coming from Polonia Warsaw is more known from his off-the-pitch antics (lately, he was kicked out from Polonia after he was sent for last minutes in Bełchatów and managed to win penalty - although showing his unhappiness on the bus home) than scored goals. To those who prefer to remember the red cards and conflicts, Cani is actually good at what he should be in the first place - eleven goals last troubling season prove just that.

"There is no point in saying that the title race is over" - said Jan Urban straight away. "A slight slip from leaders and it will open up again - this is Polish football for you, after all."

Urban by no means was triumphant after the game, yet found a way to sympathize with his younger rival and even show him the way Rumak should follow. "In our league a lot can be achieved simply by courage and motivation but this isn't the right one. Organization and positional attack is the key ability." Mariusz Rumak was certain, through his results so far, that Lech at least has it - hence the minimalistic approach, but as Legia exposed his side, once there was no discipline, lack of fight and motivation put them far behind title favourites. It seems that this time his job - no matter how much of it is needed to catch Legia - will not be simply restricted to the drawing board.

12 lis 2012

There is no place like... your home

With just seconds left on the clock, Maciej Korzym sprinted through surprisingly open Wisła's back line, collected the ball just outside the box and then, with his left foot, put the ball high past out-rushing Pareiko to equalize for Korona Kielce. Despite going down to nine-men, hosts played bravely and the man who gave them the point was the stand-out performer in pretty much characteristic match for Leszek Ojrzyński's team. No one could take the joy away from Korona's biggest crowd of the season as in the most unlikeliest conditions they put the staggering happenings throughout the weekend in Ekstraklasa on hold. With one game to go on Monday night - and if that very poor referee, Mr Jarzębak, had finished the match a bit earlier - visitors would have seven wins in eleventh round.

Seven out of eight - six even - is a staggering example of home struggle for Ekstraklasa's eight hosts in this particular round. There were title contenders falling on their knees - Śląsk Wrocław couldn't cope with fast and combinational football of league's newcomers, Piast Gliwice. Górnik Zabrze had history of winning at home against Zagłębie Lubin behind them, but when it was expected from Prejuce Nakoulma or Arkadiusz Milik to star, Szymon Pawłowski outshone them all with two fine goals. Then it was Legia's turn to pay their price for some horrible defending of Marko Suler against well organized Jagiellonia. 

Lucky wins came as well. Lech was struggling at Widzew only to take the rare chance at the end, when Rafał Murawski took advantage of hosts' goalkeeper laying on the pitch after dangerous clash. Kacper Łazaj was lucky sub of Bogusław Kaczmarek's Lechia who snatched three points out of growing Ruch in Chorzow. To be fair - and something that pretty much sums up how surprising that weekend was in term of results - only Polonia Warszawa was expected to win firmly at struggling Podbeskidzie and they did just that through Łukasz Piątek's goal.

But this is not some one-off, to be perfectly honest. This is not a sudden luck that not one gambler would love to bet on - proper away form is now a fact, a way almost half of the league exist. Seven out of sixteen teams have been performing better away from home, while at the same stage last season, the number was three. Two years ago it was one

Polonia, Lech, Lechia, Jagiellonia, Piast Gliwice, Zagłębie and Podbeskidzie, with Górnik Zabrze equal on points but without a defeat away from home - something that could be counted as eighth club, if not for slightly worse goal difference.

Some are not such surprise - Podbeskidzie needed only last weekend's win in Lubin to beat their home record so far, while Lechia, putting that silly talk about jinxed new stadium aside, had to play at home with top teams so far. Zagłębie lacks focus at crucial moments at home, where recently they complete the plan Pavel Hapal sets for the game. 

But Polonia and Lech are regarded as title contenders and should be much more confident at home than they currently are. The former are cruising away from Konwiktorska, presenting free flowing football, scoring goals, showing bigger class whereas at their own place there might be still the ghost of previous owner and his legendary pressure hanging over players' heads. But that is true that Stokowiec's team is less spectacular - even in recent win over Korona, they needed to great plays from Teodorczyk to secure three points in a very tight encounter.

Lech is even better example of home struggle. Mariusz Rumak may be confident in talking about style that brings him results but his minimalistic approach is paying off only away from Bułgarska stadium. Even rapidly growing attendances are not helping the tendency that Lech cannot outplay any rival that comes to Poznan - even when two 4-0 wins may overshadow that fact. Ruch Chorzow visited Kolejorz when they were on a clear break down, at last breaths of previous manager and without faith, organization and motivation they simply gave the points away before they took it to the pitch. Piast, on the other hand, gave Lech a good go over the night but struggled under Lech's counters that were swiftly finished in a rare show of attacking fluency from Rumak's men.  They were unable to unlock Górnik Zabrze, were drastically stopped by Jagiellonia, and early goals for both sides against Pogoń were enough for visitors to calmly see the match off.

Jagiellonia, as mentioned before, are quite a surprise - manager Tomasz Hajto, as well as captain Tomasz Frankowski made an excuse for their poor home form (just 6 out of 15 points won so far) moaning there is no atmosphere, no support and no additional push that would make Białystok a true fortress. That is another silly mistake and again, it would be better for them to blame own imperfections rather than fans, who are in constant boycott - a matter left for another article actually. Their only win came against Podbeskidzie, but wasn't convincing at all, while last weekend's draw against Widzew showed that certain self-assurance often turns to panic and lost heads - after all, they were cruising at 2-0 up and with not much to go and all they got was a draw.

Three different stories can be connected into one - low quality of the squad. As much critique as Rumak gets for the style Lech plays, it should be noticed that his options are front are at the level of league's mediocrity at best. Lechia, Polonia, Jagiellonia, Zagłębie and Piast are struggling for class in the middle, where there should be players allowing them to dominate the game, dictate the tempo, impose the flow of the match - but each manager prefers to stick to the easiest option which is counter-attacking, something of a stand-out example of Polish football philosophy, if there is one and can be named.

Look at Lech, and the most impressive players are wingers (Tonev and Lovrencics). Same goes with Polonia (Wszołek and Brzyski), Lechia (Ricardinho), Jagiellonia (Kupisz, Dzalamidze) and rest of those "away" teams. The trend could also mean that each manager's bravery rises with every mile they leave behind while travelling from home - while staying at own place means poor decisions, lack of focus, sheltering, inability to dominate and outclass rivals, even those poorer ones. This shouldn't be said loudly perhaps, but it's getting clearer that certain fear has took control of home dressing rooms around the country. Let's follow closely how it develops because in the last two seasons there was only one team that finished the league with a better away form than the home one - and ŁKS was relegated after all.

29 paź 2012

Boniek on a mission

Zbigniew Boniek might never felt so comfortable in the flesh since his hat-trick against Belgium during World Cup in 1982 but thirty years later his satisfaction was once again completed. Arguably one of the most completed Polish players that ever graced football's top stages, his mission in Boniek's home country was never completed. Until now.

His presence in last decade in Polish football is not a story of a winner - if anything, it is quite different one. In 2002 he stepped into the Poland managerial job to rebuild what was left following unsuccessful - if not embarrassing - adventure in South Korea and Japan. But Boniek's touch on the team was hardly one of Midas, noting just two wins in five as Euro 2004 campaign got tough from the start. He never finished his mission, though, infamously sending his resignation via fax from Rome, backing his decision with personal issues.

Boniek's next steps in Poland were made at the clubs he was part of as a player but neither Widzew Łódź, nor Zawisza Bydgoszcz made any impact on the league - in fact, the former are now suffering from huge financial problems, while the latter is still only one of favourites to win promotion to Ekstraklasa. 

His presence in the media, however, was quite different. Always well spoken and with a cheeky response prepared, he enjoyed himself as a TV pundit, but never felt there is a need for him to step up. Only when Poland surprisingly won the co-hosting rights for Euro 2012 he decided that Grzegorz Lato's candidature for PZPN's presidential elections may bring unnecessary embarrassment for the time of preparations, putting himself in the race.

He never lasted to the final round, though, pulling out when it became clear that his candidature is not even second best. "You wanted to have a bike, now pedal harder" - were his words to Lato as he dismissed the offer of becoming PZPN's vice-president. It might have been his best decision too, judging by how Lato's popularity piked since that nomination.

Now it got real - after coming back from his morning jog in the Poland sweat suit, he left his opposition far behind in elections and after busy weekend of hooping from one TV studio to another, his works starts. "I have to change my phone number" - he confessed after turning down yet another call during his interview for Przeglad Sportowy - "at this rate, I won't be able to do my job."

It is hard to recall a PZPN president who would enjoy bigger and warmer reception at his election - for some it seems like a dream-come-true. One of the biggest and most controversial Polish football website, Weszlo.com, didn't even try to hide their pleasure at Boniek's appointment, simply noting that the expectations just got real.

Popular "Zibi" seems aware of the fact, too. "If it was someone else in my place, then next step would be only in the right direction" - he said after his nomination - "but for me, given the level of expectations, I know I can only go backwards."

The level of challenge ahead of him is huge, as Boniek himself admits that both, people and the statute of PZPN, are reminding him too much of the communism - in fact, one of the federation's director's nickname is Lukashenko, after Belarus' president. The construction of federation's new headquarters is only one of burning issues, as miscommunication and laziness have brought many moments of embarrassment for Polish football. It is not only the open-closed roof at the National Stadium for the England game, but also how board members abused themselves in the VIP sectors during one of Poland matches at Euro 2012 with strong part of UEFA representatives present and shocked.

Even the latest elections in the Sheraton hotel brought scenes quite familiar for every football fan in Poland. The speech of one of the candidates - Edward Potok, brought memories of communism times when army authorities ruled the public media. "What the fuck was that?" - asked one of delegates, Zbigniew Lach in a TV interview. He had a comical speech himself, emotional one, and got into a further controversy when it all came down to the elections of the board, arguing with one of candidates.

The image was clear but Boniek's appointment made it a bit blur - the hope surrounded the federation, as his first decision was to lower the prices for the Uruguay match next month in Gdansk. Fans' person? "I would sing it myself if I think we deserve it" - said Boniek when asked about one of popular, yet particularly abusive chants present at every Polish stadium, no matter what level, directed at PZPN. 

His ideas are less obvious but one of the most important things is that he reminds open for ideas. He confessed that his dream is to start a national youth league or tournament, while first months Boniek will spend checking the structures and assessing the federations budget. "We cannot spend 60 million Polish Zlotys on new headquarters when there are clubs dying in poverty" - he rightly pointed out, giving himself three months for corporate refurbishments inside Polish football federation. 

His plan for the future - as of the other candidates - wasn't ever publicly declared and it is uncertain whether behind big hopes there are reasonable ideas of which way Polish game should go. In recent decades it was build on declarations expressed in language that was maybe understandable in football, but more than twenty years ago, in different era of the sport. Boniek's first challenge is to prove that not only his thinking is forward-directed, but also actions of 62-year-old ex-Juventus striker match his declarations.

"But this is only this weekend, believe me" - Zbigniew Boniek replied during one of TV interviews, at the question of his presence in the media after elections - "on Monday, hard work starts for my." His mission really seems like cleaning the mythical Augeas' Stables - hopefully his enthusiasm will not drop at any of stage of getting through some particular excrement left by Boniek's predecessors.

25 paź 2012

Too weak to win it?

If last season of Ekstraklasa football taught fans anything, it was definitely that the title was up for anybody's taking. Śląsk Wrocław were the eventual winners ahead of Ruch Chorzów - two huge surprises and causes of mass depression regarding chances of these sides in Europe, sadly confirmed by their future performances. 

This season - our focus being purely on Ekstraklasa - is slightly different. Strong statement were made by Lech and Legia at the start with both being in the top two spots, conceding eleven goals together, the same number Polish champions allowed to put past them in eight rounds so far. Single games were as promising for fans of "Wojskowi" and "Kolejorz" - the former comfortably controlled the game with Pogoń (away, 3-0), Wisła (home, 2-1) and Korona (home, 4-0), while the latter showed similar tactical awareness by three away wins with Zagłębie, Polonia and GKS, sending Piast and Ruch home with baggage of eight goals combined. 

Their game in four weeks time will be crucial, but there is more to look forward to in the Ekstraklasa's title race. Śląsk Wrocław are shaking off after their horrible start and long process of saying goodbye to Orest Lenczyk, while Polonia Warszawa may not be that far off as their heads are clear of the mad owner's pressure, as Józef Wojciechowski is long gone - hopefully forgotten. 

But the third strength this season may be a little bit of surprise. Coming off from eighth position last season - an admirable achievement for Adam Nawałka, given all the problems he had to face throughout the campaign - while current started with Górnik Zabrze hoping for as safe year, maybe even confirming their mid-table position when winter would come.

 Adam Nawałka is looking forward to fight for the second title of his managerial career

Things are, however, slightly different. Górnik is up there competing with the best, showing organization and qualities that could be seen only in glimpses when the season closed last May. Arkadiusz Milik has made a huge step forward, putting himself on the team-sheet against England from being a pure no-name just six months ago with two goals in Ekstraklasa to his name. Prejuce Nakoulma looked for a move but the wage and fee needs of Górnik and the winger himself couldn't be matched by interested parties. 

He went back and went back with a smile - Górnik welcoming him with a pleasure, as some part of Nawałka's plan was missing. Nakoulma had to play and was given time and confidence of the manager to get back to his best - which he confirmed had happened, by scoring four in last three games. His linking with Arkadiusz Milik on the counter is a pleasure to watch. Now both have eleven goals combined, while the rest of the team could score only five.

There are others, too. Łukasz Skorupski may be guilty of a blunder or two in the season so far, but his overall performances have put him in the Poland's manager notes and on the reserves list as well. Adam Danch is the leader matching the legends of previous hard-tackling, no-nonsense, perfect-positioning sense midfielders. Paweł Olkowski has apparently caught the eye of Borussia Dortmund's scouts, Michael Bemben played above anything we have seen so far from a right back in the Ekstraklasa 2013 edition and Aleksander Kwiek is a pleasure to watch. Adam Nawałka has build an organism that constantly develops as each part is creating new borders for itself and the team - arguably it will be the winter activity that may give the answer to Gónik's ambitions when the second round kicks off, but there are reasons for which Zabrze can look at the club with more positiveness in the eyes.

It will be also too much to talk about Górnik's title qualities but for once, no one should doubt that such surprise might happen. Above all the solidness performed by Legia and Lech there are reasons for which competitiveness of the league may not be shortened to only two of them - the former lack of true character and nervousness when put under constant pressure (as was shown in 2-2 draw with Górnik) and the latter's lack of quality striker and manager's Mariusz Rumak's minimalistic tactics that cost him the points in Gdansk and in goalless draw at home. Yes - to Górnik again.

If anything like that happens, surely Górnik will be another example that money mean nothing in the league. With them in cash demand and still on the financial back foot, the club is looking forward to the opening of the three stands that will set up new standards not only in Zabrze but in the whole region of Upper Silesia - Gliwice standing apart. This couldn't came too soon and the hope is that attendances will rise to the level known when Górnik's ambitions were clarified bravely by new ambitious owners, one of leading insurance companies, that the title should come in 2012. It didn't - even the relegation had happened before as debts rose and investments hit the floor, but now Górnik is on the up and no one should wave their credentials away. 

Much is down to Adam Nawałka's work with fine but experience and overall quality lacking squad and, who knows, if it isn't Górnik who will fight for the title very soon, then the manager may relish the challenge himself - though at different club.

18 paź 2012

Draw with England means Fornalik's obligation

There was hardly any joy at the last whistle for Waldemar Fornalik - barely a smile rose on his face as he marched towards Roy Hodgson to exchange firm handshake. Poland manager probably knew that he was the closest to bringing down 39-year-long complex of whole country, a ghost of Wembley 1973 whose soul hang on every bigger game the nation had to play since then.

After all, there were talks about whole generation brought up on Jan Tomaszewski's magical night, lousy defending and non-existent attacking play long forgotten.

If not several factors - details, such as Joleon Lescott's back - a different one could be raised on the legend of Piszczeks, Lewandowskis and Gliks. 

How many times in recent years we have heard that this is the right moment to beat England? When Arkadiusz Głowacki put the ball in his own net? When Tomasz Frankowski equalized at Old Trafford with acrobatic volley? When Janusz Wójcik - now manager shortened to only first letter of his surname - promised so in 1999?

Few have praised Roy Hodgson's England at Euro 2012, a side build on solidness and schemes, but their start to this World Cup 2012 qualification campaign was a good one, bar unimpressive draw with Ukraine at home. That was also the reason why all the talk about possible positive result in Warsaw was forbidden.

Even more - the excuses were already written down following Tuesday's downpour of embarrassment, as Waldemar Fornalik preferred to move the game for next month rather than the following day. Was he so uncertain regarding his team? Maybe he wanted to wait for Błaszczykowski - just back from injury, out of fitness and form possibly - and not hand out starts to unconvincing Grosicki and unproven Wszołek?

The question of his and team's ambition was long gone when the players sang their hearts out with the national anthem, followed by maybe vulgar but motivational scream of stand-in captain, Marcin Wasilewski - something Kuba Błaszczykowski undoubtedly has never done nor will. The image was clear from the first moment they stepped out on muddy pitch - this was a team.

Not three individuals pulling their team-mates forward, not Lewandowski and Piszczek only but also Glik, Grosicki, Krychowiak, Polanski and Tytoń. Each of them played their trade, their roles, which Fornalik made understandable to the point at which England was pushed back to own goal with some despairing clearances.

Much was said about Hodgson's men taking sleeping pills to have a rest ahead of rescheduled game on Wednesday and - afterwards - English fans joked that they will need the same cure following predictable, slow and overall poor performance from their side. As much of their incompetence and averageness was down to all the problems ex-Liverpool manager had and has, as to Fornalik's players and the way they played. 

Many would argue but it wasn't a single factor that made the difference between yesterday's performance and the ones at Euro - it was much more. United squad, balanced in every department, with a own soul but the most significant disparity was in patience of players and manager. Patience that rose from confidence in the manager and own abilities - to the moment in which not even a goal conceded has stopped Fornalik's men from going forward, has not brought them down. Only made them more focused and stubborn in their attacks.

Arguably, it was hardly a classic. Tempo of the game was dictated by the conditions and everything that had happened before the actual kick-off of the match. But this game is all about adapting to certain situations and Poles did it way better - sat deep and made England pass sloppily to well-positioned Krychowiak and Polanski. Gave the impression that opponent's full-backs can move forward, only to expose the space behind them with clever movement and combinations of Grosicki and Piszczek on the right side. 

Situations followed - maybe not as clear as the whole stadium wanted - but given the number of them and the ease at which Lewandowski freed himself from the opponents, covered the ball and (not too often) passed it around, Poland was impressive at going forward. This wasn't a game of rising heroes in Fornalik's new team - the one whose only names resemble of the Smuda's - but it was a match, an opportunity to create a united side. Even without several certain starters, Fornalik proved what his predecessor failed at - there is much more to this team than the twelve players Smuda craved about before Euro 2012.

This is not only a statement from Fornalik and his team - this is only an obligation made to Polish fans. Something must follow, something must be build on the most positive result of recent year or two, that Poland have finally stepped up to the occasion of competitive game and not only was still standing at the end but was nearer the win than their more famous rivals. 

Fornalik knows that, he is hardly a man that would fly away or lose his head - hence the lack of satisfaction on his face when the last whistle went. The mission just got bigger, just got real. The one-all draw in Warsaw has given a faith that the 2014 World Cup in Brazil may be not that far from our dreams as getting out of the group of Greece, Czech Republic and Russia. In fact, it may be even closer.

13 paź 2012

Answers are given as Poland wins

Boos from the crowd send the home team to the dressing room as half time approached and only few players could not take the critique to their hearts. Waldemar Fornalik, however, could only reflect on the opening forty-five minutes and make decisions that would give answers not for how Friday's encounter would go on, but what may Tuesday bring. 

Paweł Wszołek, for instance, was taken off precariously following his fine display - young winger was at his creative best, surging down the right and left flank, depending on how he changed sides with unimpressive and mistake-prone Mierzejewski. The evidence was enough for Fornalik to decide who needs no further test - Polonia's midfielder may have suffered small injury scare at the beginning of the week (which could be another - different? - reason for his withdrawal) but given the start and chance, Wszołek repaid the faith with statement of taking advantage of Błaszczykowski's injury.

"I can be only happy that the players have given me a fair bit of material to analyse before England match" - said the manager. Just after one hour mark, one of the biggest surprises of this season in French Ligue 1, Grzegorz Krychowiak was subbed and Fornalik was not short of a praise for his midfielder whose impressive progress have surely won him the place against Gerrard, Carrick and Lampard - or whoever else Roy Hodgson picks.

There was a small doubt of whether both keepers will be tested but Przemysław Tytoń made sure there is no worry for the coaching staff, even if his recent problems at PSV were a concern for all involved. But he was calm and composed, focused and commanding, claiming everything that went his way - that said, the quality of opposition, RSA's attitude, was surely poorer than of those who booed the home team at half time.

Komorowski's goal was enough what Poland deserved from the game, though it should be Artur Sobiech to find the net, given couple of occasions earlier on, before he collided with Khune and was stretched off the pitch and send to the hospital for further tests. It was not only his mistakes in front of the goal, though - Arkadiusz Piech is guilty of wasting one glorious chance from Wszołek's brilliant pass over the defence, while Adrian Mierzejewski was left swearing at heavens at his early miss.

Answers were all round. Solidness of Damien Perquis and his fine, timed interventions has given food for thought to Fornalik as Glik was rested, but then nor Wasilewski's recent performances at club level, nor Grzegorz Wojtkowiak's show off were enough to make Fornalik put Piszczek at right-wing, as some of the media wanted. The latter's positioning was suspicious and he allowed RSA's fast wingers inside too many times - mistakes that could prove costly against more clinical opposition.

"Actually, I think our performance will depend a lot on Obraniak" - claimed Robert Lewandowski, obviously referring to the England match, not friendly encounter on Friday. His influence may be crucial for the breaks and how they shape - if not going on wing, the French-born midfielder must be put through more passes as both Krychowiak and Borysiuk struggle to put the ball forward faster. In fact, most of their passes were safe, side-changing rather than pace-giving when the latter was more needed. Their performances will be rated on the base of the defensive display at which they did well - with Polanski's eagerness to move forward with the ball at his feet, Krychowiak's interceptions and protection may be more crucial than distribution.

The shape will be different, as will be the performers. Lewandowski will give more intelligence with his movement and, hopefully, more quality to the poor finishing we saw on Friday. The left-hand-side is still as crucial as who goes on the right - without Błaszczykowski the balance between flanks will be sustained and shared, not as heavy relying on captain's shoulders whenever he is present. This may not make up for his eight goals in last sixteen Poland games, but surely gives more options, which is always crucial against stronger opposition.

Kamil Grosicki and Waldemar Sobota - the choice between them will not be made solemnly on their wide range of tricks and ideas, but how they track back and keep channels closed. Something much more crucial in keeping the clean sheet against less creative but more persistent and patient side Hodgson's trying to create. Waldemar Fornalik will look how to frustrate his opposition at first, then to make them pay for nervous mistakes - his pragmatism will allow Poland to attack with four players at best, on fast counters and with direct approach.

The second win of Fornalik's tenure was important to set up some basis for bigger challenges ahead. The other game, Ukraine's goalless draw in Moldova, opens the chance even with a defeat on Tuesday but even a point against England may mean a lot for the team that is in constant transition since Smuda left. More important than games won are, indeed, the answers and surely, on a cold Friday's night in Warsaw, Waldemar Fornalik was given enough to look at Poland's next fixture with a slightly bigger hope than the very first news of his players' injuries came to him few days back.

6 paź 2012

Arkadiusz Milik's career on the up

There was quite an amusement when both squads were announced. It was the opening of previous season in Wrocław as Śląsk was hosting Górnik Zabrze and whole attention was put down to one man who was there to lead visitors' attacks against Polish vice-champions. Just seventeen year old striker, a certain no-name in Polish football was send onto his debut by Adam Nawałka - a manager who is not known for his habit of risking. By that time it may be more about statement of Górnik's problems with strikers but at the same time a surprising one-all draw in Wrocław could be a start of one of most electric careers in recent seasons of Ekstraklasa.

Of course, Milik might had to wait until 24th match of the season to get his debut goals - he hit two that day past impressive Korona Kielce - but there was never any doubt or mistrust towards young striker. Occasionally he was sent to play for the youth team, but given that he was made a set-piece taker by Nawałka shows that his coach knew straight away that the confidence will grow and goals will come, eventually. 

Fourteen months later and Arkadiusz Milik will probably step into the national team from the reserves list after Marek Saganowski was withdrawn with heart problem, full of the thing as he put two past poor Podbeskidzie. First one was a fantastic, powerful, 20-yard strike from tough position on a bumpy pitch, while the second finish has made the commentator compare his second touch to what Paul Gascoigne did once against Scotland. It may not be even close but the way he coped with a long pass, out-running two defenders, taking the ball down, chipping it onto defender's head and then volleying the thing home he made the press open their reports tomorrow with a question whether 19-year-old Arkadiusz Milik should start against England.

And why shouldn't he? Waldemar Fornalik may have only a couple of games under his Poland's belt but he has shown that he prefers in-form players rather than those of certain status. Milik's biggest problem is not, however, his young age or lack of experience at this level but the way his performances resemble those of Robert Lewandowski. These two have not only similar physical appearance but also are looking for intelligent solutions on the pitch, eager to move a bit deeper, withdraw defender and create space, take the ball or offer himself behind or between the lines. 

There is a long way to go for Milik but he is observed closely and well known abroad already with different clubs following closely his performances and development. The latter is taking the tempo and Milik's five goal in this season already are showing that Adam Nawałka's work and care over him are showing him the right way. He is growing in the best environment possible at the moment - he even took care of his brother in his contract, guaranteeing him the job at the club in the newest deal -  and if there is anything on Milik's mind about his next move, he may have to look at his possible partner versus England and create another connection.

Without a doubt, the way Lewandowski's career was directed by himself and his agent, Cezary Kucharski - even forgetting about latest silly and unnecessary differences over striker's new deal at Dortmund - is the right one. Two years at the time of building his name (domestically at Znicz Pruszków, then continentally at Lech Poznan) with one season for adaptation in foreign conditions then confidentially stepping in the place among Europe's finest strikers. Even with that awful miss at Eithad on Wednesday.

Arkadiusz Milik is already in his second season at Górnik with new long term deal and club looking for possibly the biggest sum for his signature from foreign club. The latter brings obvious worry regarding his future - if he will be pushed out of the club, then will he be advised by the money or by the chance he will get wherever he goes? 

Thankfully, by now he can focus at what he is doing better and better - scoring goals. His next biggest challenge is to move up to a different level and the only taste he will be given on the international stage is by trusting on Fornalik's instinct. Although the papers will point at the England game, his possibility may come with earlier match with Republic of South Africa. Even with Górnik's bright start to this season - if proven only by last two wins over Śląsk (4-1) and Podbeskidzie (3-1) - there is a doubt whether they will challenge for top spots with as tight squad as Nawałka has at his disposal.

"Our current situation is interesting" - says Milik himself - "but we simply keep being happy by winning games." He ruled out winter's fire-sell at the club which financial problems were well documented over last years. For Górnik's chances it's absolutely crucial to keep their momentum over next games. Despite Milik's goals and possible inclusion in Poland games, Adam Nawałka may be cursing the international break - it simply comes in the worst possible time for his team.