With just over 48 hours to the Polish Cup final I decided to start a short series of posts that will be about both finalists and the whole tournament. It may not be as interesting for fans as it used to be or it is in other countries but there are few stories hidden behind the image, not the best of ones, of the Cup. So, as we are down to two teams and final game of Polish Cup, let’s have a look at Lech Poznan and Legia Warszawa, both finalists.
Run for the Cup
As both teams entered the tournament from 1/16 round, Lech enjoyed better drawing of the two having to play with GKS Tychy away, team from third division. But what looked fairly easy on the paper was indeed a tough game for Polish champions with only late Stilić goal separating both sides. Also, Manuel Arboleda was sent off in what wasn’t exactly the scenario fans wanted from their team. But they have got their reward in the next round when Lech hammered Cracovia away 4-1 with Rudnevs scoring a brace and Peszko with Wilk adding one each. Interestingly, the only goal for struggling Cracovia came from Ślusarski, player who joined… Lech during the winter period.
Much harder proved to be two games tie with Polonia Warszawa which Kolejorz started on a back foot as they have lost at home to a single goal, an own goal, from Arboleda. But the revenge was all about Lech’s character, never-die attitude as they have scored two goals early in the game but have not escaped nervous ending as Polonia trailed back with Kokoszka goal and were looking for a draw that would gave them promotion. Instead, it was Lech who faced sensational Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biala, second division team that won with Wisła Krakow in previous round. Indeed, it was an up-hill challenge for Lech as they failed to defend their one goal lead in the first game when Adam Cieśliński scored in added time for visitors. But the revenge proved to be even harder for Kolejorz - they were losing 0-2 away in 73rd minute but then, thanks to super subs, Artjoms Rudnevs and Semir Stilić, they scored three times and ended Podbeskidzie dream about big final. It was Lech who was going to face Legia in Bydgoszcz.
Legia had even harder start of their run in the Cup as they had to face Pogoń in Szczecin – friendly on the terraces but nervous and uninspiring on the pitch. Only late goal from Michał Kucharczyk spared Legia the second leg but the style was once again questioned by their fans. But it seems that those early stages of the Polish Cup were all about late winners for Skorża’s team. Next round and Śląsk Wrocław hosted them and Sebastian Szałachowski scored twice in last fifteen minutes to send home side away, despite them having good game and scoring once through Waldemar Sobota.
Next round and tough away leg in Chorzow with Ruch which was full of emotions, bad tackles and poor finishing as the game ended in one-each draw. The revenge was a game with no history, away team simply not performing well enough to threaten home side and brace from Legia’s captain, Ivica Vrdoljak was enough to send team from Warszawa to semi-finals. Semi-finals, where Lechia Gdansk awaited. And indeed, it was tough game but Legia finally performed calmer at the back, rarely threatening but getting the away goal they wanted just minutes before the end. Once again it was Michał Kucharczyk who found the net in crucial moment. Second leg was much easier for Legia as they were scoring for fun against horribly defending rivals ending game 4-0. Final was theirs.
It will be no surprise that Lech’s best performers are also their key players – Semir Stilić and Artjoms Rudnevs. The duo is combining very well each time and it could be easily seen how big difference they make in Lech’s play – especially in that fantastic tie with Podbeskidzie. Also their captain, Bartosz Bosacki was very important link at the heart of Kolejorz defence also scoring from penalty against Polonia in Warszawa and generally working his socks off. Krzysztof Kotorowski deserves a mention as his saves were of a better class in every game and certainly Lech wouldn’t play in the final if not his heroics on the line.
Surprising hero of Legia is Michał Kucharczyk, young winger who made a big jump in the summer from third to first division in Polish football but proved that it is not much for him. He is quick, good one on one, always looking for a goal and technically gifted – his important goals gave much joy to the Legia faithful. As predicted, one-million euro worth captain, Ivica Vrdoljak was their star player and run the game for Skorża’s team, also getting on the score sheet more than once.
Dead men walking
Don’t let the squad of the final fool you, it’s not the game of top Polish teams but big clubs who struggled throughout the season and need that final to save themselves some blushes. And maybe their manager jobs as both, Jose Mari Bakero (Lech) and Maciej Skorża (Legia) are on the brink of getting sacked for their poor, poor league form.
Starting with Lech, there is not much to say, as the way they started league season was pathetic and when Bakero took over from Zieliński they were closer to the bottom than the top of the table. Things improved, that’s obvious as they are now fighting for third place but Bakero’s managing style is much questioned by fans and experts – especially the rotation system he uses in every game and which proved costly on several occasions.
The rotation also caused some unhappiness in Lech’s dressing room with several players not really knowing what are arguments behind Bakero’s selection, mainly Krivets moaning about it when he was left on the bench after good performance. Bakero seems unaware of the problem or not wanting to make it any worse than it is now. Not too say much more, each game is a tough test for the Spaniard as Lech fans have white tissues prepared to wave with in his direction after last whistle.
And to think that Maciej Skorża is in much worse situation than his colleague… But there are better arguments for his future and what looks now like definite sacking. He had whole summer to build new team, had money for transfers, had almost every of his wishes fulfilled and still struggles with Legia, especially in the league. They have lost eleven games there and just recently ended run of six games without a win, something uncommon and unwelcomed in as big club as Legia is.
But his team not only lacks class, they desperately need character. Only few times they have showed there is strength and will to win in their heads. Skorża not once and not twice mentioned it during his press meetings saying that the game was lost in their heads, how they feel in pieces after losing first goal. Without a doubt he has a team with huge talent, and I’m pointing at Borysiuk, Kucharczyk, Rybus, Gol and few others, but they need a spark that makes a decent side works. Legia is not decent, neither they are working and Skorża is the one to blame for most of it.
Lech and Legia faced twice this season already in the league and both classic games were very interesting. Rare character show from Legia in Warszawa when they were losing 0-1 early in the game but came back thanks to Kucharczyk and dramatic goal from Mezenga in 88th minute of the match. That was their hope for a better season which proved quickly to be a rare performance of the kind more familiar to Legia fans than the usual service.
But Lech took their revenge in second Lech. The biggest crowd of the season watched how Artjoms Rudnevs, just coming back from injury and second half substitution, scores the only goal in a good game that was unnecessarily ruined by the referee when he should have sent off Lech’s goalkeeper on Manu when he got behind him and was through on goal. Decent game with more chances for Legia but it was Lech who took that crucial one well and got the win they needed.
More about the Polish Cup, the final and the tournament, tomorrow and the following day. Make sure you will come back.