Another victory for Poland, fourth clean sheet in a row and, even if the stress on its narrowness could not have been stronger. Slovakia proved not only to be a trouble but with their aggression and hard-tackling approach, Franciszek Smuda clearly was worried about his leaders, quickly subbing most of his influential players. The game against Greece, which will be played at the opening of Euro 2012 in Warsaw, is just in thirteen days, there was no need to bring even more problems back to Lienz where Polish squad is preparing for the tournament.
But despite certain decency of the starting eleven that enjoyed small crowds that bothered to come all the way to Klagenfurt, the fluency and quality ended as soon as Murawski, Polanski and Lewandowski were off at half-time. Further worries were caused when Smuda subbed Błaczykowski and Obraniak was left alone to create - even though he was taken off as well, with ten minutes to go.
"It was the worst game of my life", said Franciszek Smuda, but that was not about the level or the realization how poor his second string is. Huge sigh of relief could be heard in Klagenfurt coming from the Polish bench, as the manager saw that no one is injured - a very welcomed news, just twenty hours before his final decision regarding the 23-men squad for Euro 2012 comes. He must have seen the commitment, yet take in notice how poorly played those prepared only to wait on the subs bench, in their bibs for a chance that may not even come.
On the brighter note, Poland will not have to play with Matuszczyk and Dudka responsible for distributing the ball and setting the tempo - if everyone in the co-hosts camp will stay healthy that is. But as much as we were expecting the leadership in the likes of Błaszczykowski or Murawski, it was Maciej Rybus who stepped up to the role that should make him even more confident about his place for the Greece game. Terek's winger was only few centimeters from scoring, while he troubled Slovakia with constant and intelligent running, not keeping to the sideline like he used to. His progress is one of most welcomed surprises, as reports from Grozny were not always precise or positive.
The biggest problem remains the same, though - how to survive the tournament without the need of changing the starting line-up, without the problems of injuries and suspensions. On the evidence of the Latvia game and the second half from today's match, Smuda is not even an inch closer to finding the solution to this issue. If only the subs were trying harder, were willing to make a difference or follow the pattern and example shown by those who are there to be beaten. Nothing like that had happened, Brożek was anonymous and slow again, Matuszczyk couldn't hold the ball in the easiest of situations, while Dudka looked nervous, fouling unnecessarily.
At least Smuda saw how his full-back perform in different circumstances, in different approach. Piszczek was very willing to go forward in the first half, always linking well and creating dangers with his runs and crossing, while Boenisch on the left did more than against Latvia - yet, arguably, that wasn't enough to satisfy Polish hopes for a player with the status that Smuda created for him. To put it shortly - there was more will to go forward from Boenisch but no quality and support. Quite the difference to much more confident and attacking approach from Piszczek, the one that was missed for so long at the international level from the right-back.
Was his transition to what he plays at club level was down to the rival, his own confidence in himself and his teammates, or rather something Smuda was preparing for the last stage of the Euro preparations? This is something that will be closely followed by his rivals and critics and if he fails to develop and use one of the strongest links in his system, the price to pay will undoubtedly be painful for Smuda.
The one thing that is also put under question in Poland, is whether the training plan for the team was not too tough, too tiring for players that were after long club season. And indeed, even if today's first half was to be compared with the second, the freshness of those who only recently have joined the squad in Lienz was easily noticeable, with the tired legs of defenders, especially Boenisch, a sign of weaknesses that might be used by Greece, Czechs or Russians.